Canadian filmmaker Tiffany Burns thought she finally had a shot at getting her documentary Mr. Big before a sizable Seattle audience when KCTS 9 contacted her about airing the film. Mr. Big is a scathing portrait of the sting tactics used in one of the most sensational murder cases of the Seattle area-- one that landed her brother, Sebastian, and his friend, Atif Rafay, in prison for life. But KCTS ultimately rejected the film.
Kevin P. Casey
KCTS head of programming Randy Brinson says the reason is simple. Upon viewing the film himself, and doing research about the case, he felt that Mr. Big lacked balance.
The film serves as an indictment of tactics used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to get suspects to confess. A Mountie will pose as a gangster--a Mr. Big if you will--and lure his targets into working for him. First, however, the suspects must prove they're worthy by spilling details of former crimes.
In this way, Rafay and Sebastian Burns boasted to the Mounties that they had killed Rafay's parents and sister in their Bellevue home for the insurance money, "confessions" that the college boys later said were fabricated in order to impress "Mr. Big." The young men had gone soon after the murder to Vancouver, B.C., where Sebastian's parents live.
"The film makes the case that if not for the confessions, Burns and Rafay would not have been convicted," Brinson says. "But the film doesn't mention other evidence." Brinson also says the Bellevue Police Department and the King County Prosecutor's office were criticized by the film, along with the Mounties, yet neither agency had a chance to tell its side of the story.
Burns counters that there was plenty of positive information about law enforcement, and negative information about the defendants, offered up in other media. A 48 Hours special, for example, fed into the general impression that the young men were haughty and bloodless monsters. Mr. Big was, in fact, an attempt at balance, Burns suggests.
But there is no question that the documentary, which played at the Seattle International Film Festival a couple years ago and has aired on TV stations in numerous countries outside the U.S., is arguing one side of the case. And while that side has attracted the attention of innocence projects in this country and Canada, it's one that many people from this area are disinclined to believe. Obviously, KCTS wasn't prepared to wade into the controversy.
But a TV station with a little more psychic and geographic distance from the murders, Rhode Island's WLNE, is. On Monday, the ABC affiliate agreed to broadcast Mr. Big, according to Burns. It will be the first time the film has aired on American television.