Life with Murder changing lives

The Hot Docs festival isn’t over yet, but one of the films that screened at the event has already started changing the lives of an embattled Chatham, Ont., couple.

In his cell

In his cell

TORONTO — The Hot Docs festival isn’t over yet, but one of the films that screened at the event has already started changing the lives of an embattled Chatham, Ont., couple.

Life With Murder director John Kastner says that Brian and Leslie Jenkins have suffered a “great deal of pain” in their hometown because they supported their son, Mason, after he was convicted of killing their daughter.

But Kastner says things are turning around for the couple since his documentary about the murder screened this week.

“We had the most glorious premiere of the film at Hot Docs,” Kastner said.

Brian and Leslie Jenkins “were present and very nervous, because they’ve suffered a great deal of pain from people cutting them and so on. They got a standing ovation, and there was this outpouring of love. People yelling ‘We love you, come to our community!’

“They’ve been waiting for 12 years, never dreaming that they’d be embraced like this.”

It was back in 1998 that 18-year-old Jennifer Jenkins was shot five times and killed. Her older brother, Mason Jenkins, was the primary suspect and was eventually convicted of first-degree murder.

He maintained his innocence and his parents supported them, even as details of the grisly case gradually emerged.

Kastner, a three-time Emmy Award winner, has been thrilled by the reception to his film, particularly since he says one of his goals was helping viewers emphathize with a set of parents who had little choice but to try to support the only child they had left.

Coverage of the provocative film has been extensive, with stories in most local Toronto press (including one alternative weekly that put a photo of Mason Jenkins on its cover with the headline Natural Born Killer).

And a story in the Chatham Daily News that reported on the standing ovation received by the Jenkins parents was particularly meaningful for the pair, Kastner said, because they had for years felt subject to murmuring disapproval from neighbours who couldn’t understand their willingness to support a convicted murderer.

“Something has already begun to change in their lives,” Kastner said.

“Last night, a complete stranger came up to their house … knocked on their door, said, ‘I felt guilty all these years that I never really talked to you, and I just want to say how sorry I am and how much I admire you for surviving this thing as you did.’ And Leslie told me that she said, ‘It takes a big man to say that and we appreciate that very much.’

The film, a co-production with the National Film Board, will make its U.S. debut at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June, and the NFB says discussions are ongoing for a Canadian television broadcast.