An American Crime

Director: Tommy O’Haver
Screenwriters: Tommy O’Haver, Irene Turner

Institute History

  • 2007 Sundance Film Festival


Based on a true story that gripped the nation in 1965, An American Crime recounts one of the most shocking crimes ever committed against a single victim. The daughters of traveling carnival workers are left for an extended stay at the suburban Indiana home of single mother Gertrude Baniszewski and her seven children. Times are tough, and Gertrude's needs force her to accept this arrangement before understanding how the burden will push her already-fragile nature to a breaking point. What transpires is both riveting and horrific, leaving one child dead and the rest scarred for life.

Even though a complete reversal of the type of film you expect from him, it becomes clear immediately that An American Crime is a film Tommy O'Haver was destined to make. With profound skill, he controls the complex narrative, the historic period, and a cast of more than a dozen talented child actors. Casting Catherine Keener as Gertrude was his first brilliant idea. With spellbinding clarity, her Gertrude oozes with squelched sexual desire and shifting levels of insanity and evil. She has the uncanny ability to make you empathize even when she encourages the family and neighborhood children to participate in unthinkable activities. The proof? Even though you know the outcome, in a weak moment, you can actually believe her lies.

— John Cooper

Screening Details

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