The American media loves a good serial killer story, so how was it that when 23 young men from Southeastern Louisiana were raped and killed over a ten year period by the same man, it made no headlines outside of small regional news outlets?
A new feature-length documentary, Bayou Blue, premiering at the London Film Festival this week, reveals this overlooked story: the brutal case of Ronald Dominique who targeted young, vulnerable men, luring them to him with offers of money, sex or drugs.
Using sound recordings from police interrogations with Dominique, testimony from criminal investigators and lawyers, and candid interviews with the family and friends of just a small selection of his numerous victims, the film attempts to piece together how this sexual predator and violent killer was able to continue on for so long before his crimes were discovered and he was arrested, and how such a prolific case received no attention from the mainstream press.
The film also paints a melancholic portrait of a dying segment of the isolated American Deep South, where a shrinking economy combined with the impact of terrible natural and man-made disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and the BP Gulf Oil Spill, have destroyed an already impoverished and fragile rural community.
Bayou Blue is a compelling effort to delve into a highly complex series of events and issues. Featuring extensive footage of the natural expanses of the Bayou and its surrounding area, the film gives a good sense of the remoteness of the region, seemingly a world away from what we think of as modern America.
It is this sense of separation, of distance from urban American life which one interviewee, local reporter Robert Morris, states as a potential reason for why the case was not picked up by the national press.
Morris, who provides one of the most interesting insights into the case, contemplated that another element of the lack of media interest in the case could have stemmed from the fact that the victims were “street people”, people who Americans “don’t like to talk about”. This, combined with the fact that the killer was a gay man, made it harder for people to think about the case and feel sympathy for the victims and their families.
The reporter’s account is the only interview which really hits the nail on the head when it comes to trying to explain the neglect around the case and the unfortunately the film fails to go into enough detail about the impact of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the region in 2005, or the work of the police investigators in the case. It does, however, make an ambitious effort to finally shed light on a shocking and terrible crime, giving a voice to those who suffered at the hand of Dominique’s actions, and the families’ quest to come to terms with what happened. With Bayou Blue the filmmakers have produced a film that’s worth seeing through to the end, but it certainly poses more questions than it answers.
Bayou Blue will be screening as part of the London Film Festival on Tuesday 16 October at 8.45pm and Wednesday 17 October at 3.45pm at the BFI Southbank, and at the Ritzy cinema in Brixton on Saturday 20 October at 6.30pm. More information and tickets can be obtained here.