According to director, John Zaritsky, filming the Oscar-winning documentary Just
Another Missing Kid, started like any other project. The
fifth estate received a letter from the Wilson family outlining
their journey to find justice for their murdered son, Eric. "We
thought there might be a good story about the detective Jim Conway,
who was quite a character," said Zaritsky, "but
after I interviewed him, I realized this was a much bigger story about
the American justice system."
THE CONTROVERSY OVER RECREATIONS
At the time filming started in 1980, Raymond Hatch and his accomplice
were in jail awaiting trial. The major events in the story had already
happened and there was nothing to capture in front of the camera. So Zaritsky
turned to an 'almost new' technique.
Peter Wilson worked with director John Zaritsky to re-create the search for
He enlisted the help of the Wilson family
and the private detective Jim Conway to 're-create' their journey across
the United States in search of the missing teenager. "We needed to do something
to break up the talking heads (interviews) in the story but at the time
this technique of recreations was viewed with great skepticism," remembers
He remembers heated battles back in the offices at the fifth estate where
producers debated whether to use the scenes and how to identify them as
recreations. Although recreations are now a common tool employed by documentary
filmmakers, twenty-five years ago they had been used in only a handful
A POPULAR FILM
Just Another Missing Kid
aired on the fifth estate
on April 7, 1981 to
great popular and critical acclaim. The documentary went on to win several
national and international film awards (see right). Since the film had won
at an international festival in New York City, CBC submitted an application
to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Months later, Zaritsky and his team at the fifth estate learned
that Missing Kid had been nominated for an Oscar.
THE ISSUE OF MISSING CHILDEN
As the publicity around Just Another Missing Kid
grew, it also
raised awareness on the dangers of hitchhiking. "It was like Hollywood
discovered missing kids," said Zaritsky, "and things started
to improve for families." Missing children organizations were formed
and national registries were set up. "In the early 1980's it
was unheard of to see pictures of missing children on the backs of milks
cartons and things like that."
Picked as a favourite to win on Oscar night, Zaritsky was nervous but confident.
When his name was finally called, "it was the biggest rush of my life,
I just floated up to the stage."
Associate producer Brian Vallee and director John Zaritsky with their Oscar.
With his Oscar on board, Zaritsky headed back to Canada. "The Customs
guy asked me if I had anything to declare," he remembers, "and
when I showed him the Oscar he wanted to know what it was worth." "John
told them that he had a letter from the Academy that said that if he didn't
want the Oscar anymore, he was to sell it back to them for $10," remembers
Deborah Carter, who was one of the many waiting at the offices of the
where a huge celebration had been planned.
TEACHING NEW FILMMAKERS
John Zaritsky went on to become an independent documentary filmmaker for CBC,
HBO and PBS Frontline
. Today he's still making
films through his own production company Point Grey Pictures
a filmmaking course for new directors at the University of British Columbia.
He always shows the film to his students. "It's not my favourite
film", says Zaritsky, "it was only the fourth documentary I
had done and I think it was pretty amateur. I've since become a better
filmmaker, but Missing Kid was special. It was the power of the
story that made it great."
NOTE: In 1985, the story of the Wilson
family's search for their son Eric was
made into a feature film called, Into Thin Air,
starring Ellen Burstyn and produced by Ron Howard.