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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014

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In Movies & TV

A still from the upcoming fim / documentary "Jeff."

New Jeffrey Dahmer film focuses on his "seemingly normal" life


Chris James Thompson did not live in Milwaukee when the Jeffrey Dahmer story hit the news in the summer of 1991. At the time, he lived in Madison with his mother, but his dad lived in Brew City, so he remembers the story well. However, Thompson never thought he would wind up making a documentary about the guy.

"I won the Milwaukee International Film Festival in 2007 and they gave me some filmstock and a camera for my next film. At the time I was having trouble deciding how to use it, so my friend and fellow director Frankie Latina, who loves exploitation films, was pushing me to shoot a Dahmer slasher film, which sounded like an awful idea," says Thompson.

Hoping to get him to warm up to the idea, Latina gave Thompson movies, books and articles about Dahmer.

"While most of the content was the same sensational narratives about his motives and murders that everyone is familiar with, there always seemed to be these interesting fragments of other people's stories that were involved in various ways like neighbors and police that were really intriguing, yet undeveloped," says Thompson.

Thompson was taken with the fact that Dahmer lived such a seemingly "normal" life. He began to wonder about the people around him, in his everyday world, and how they were affected once they found out the terrible secret behind Dahmer.

The film, called "Jeff," began as a piece of fictional narrative featuring actor Andrew Swant, then became more of a documentary and finally, found its place as a feature film documentary.

The film is almost complete, and currently, Thompson is applying to 11 film festivals around the world. (He has set up a Kickstarter page for people to help him fund the final phase of the film and where people can watch a clip.)

The film contains re-enactment scenes along with interviews with police officers who were involved in the case and neighbors who interacted with Dahmer. One woman in the film recalls getting a red couch from Dahmer and says that, after his arrest, people wanted to pay her money to sit on it.

Thompson spoke with members of the victims' families to gain insight, but they did not want to be recorded.

"It's such a complex, dense story that is still affecting people 20-plus years later, so I tried to be as as understanding and respectful as possible with everyone I spoke with. For the most part, people just seemed to be refreshed to be able to share the story from their perspective and talk about how it affected them, as opposed to why or how Dahmer did what he did," he says.

Thompson works at a small, independent film company in the Third Ward called Bluemark Productions – the company responsible for the docu-cult film "American Movie." After graduating with with a degree in film from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Thompson traveled to India with filmmaker Chris Smith to work on his film "The Pool."

"The first Indian I met while there was our translator Srinivas Sunderajjan, and the first thing he asked me was where I was from – and I told him Milwaukee – he replied immediately, 'Ohhh, like Jeffrey Dahmer?'" he says.


Talkbacks

TosaJim | Dec. 15, 2011 at 2:30 p.m. (report)

What kind of person would spend money to sit and listen to this disgusting story. There has to be better subjects and people to make films about...not this degenerate.

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CoolerKing | Dec. 15, 2011 at 8:14 a.m. (report)

I agree, enough already. Ed Gein's murders happened over 50 years ago of which there has been about 4 films based on him and as recent as last year someone did a musical about him! The memory won't go away and we don't need to dwell on it. There's already been 3 films about Dahmer. That's more than enough.

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MilwaukeeCity | Dec. 14, 2011 at 11:13 p.m. (report)

Enough with the dahmer stuff already!

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