True Memories and Other Falsehoods

This feature documentary looks at the ways in which memories are formed and how easily they can become contaminated. Memory contamination occurs when details not present during the original event are introduced, encouraged and/or substantiated by fictitious evidence. Such interventions often result in the alteration of memory and the fabrication of rich and intricate details which can have severe consequences especially when the criminal justice system is involved.  

True Memories and Other Falsehoods focuses on three people: The first is Penny Beerntsen, whose story was touched upon in the recent Netflix series, Making  a Murderer. In 1985, Penny was brutally attacked on a beach in Wisconsin. After being transported to an emergency room, a deputy from the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department began questioning Penny and taking notes from which a statement was crafted. Although the Sheriff’s Department desperately wanted to capture her assailant, investigators may have followed a protocol which made memory contamination predictable. Penny identified Steven Avery as her attacker and, based largely on her eyewitness testimony, he was convicted. Avery spent 18 years in prison before being cleared by DNA evidence.

Although Making a Murderer touches upon Penny’s story, she declined to be interviewed for the Netflix series which focuses more broadly on the Avery case, particularly his post-exoneration trial and conviction for the murder of Theresa Halbach.

In addition to Penny Beerntsen, True Memories and Other Falsehoods will feature an individual who remembers committing a crime that they ultimately realize they did not commit and a law enforcement officer who unintentionally elicits a false confession.  

We hope our film will enable people to have a clearer understanding of the way memory works and how easily false memories can be implanted so that better protocols can be put in place to guard against future occurrences.

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