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The Brandon Teena Story Movie Review

lotter nissen life lana

Teena R. Brandon's short life spanned from December 12, 1973, to December 31, 1993. Her coffin is inscribed “Daughter, Sister, Friend.” And so she was to the people who loved her. Teena was having a sexual identity crisis. Born a girl in Lincoln, Nebraska, she felt like a boy, and as Brandon Teena, she dated a number of young women, all of whom liked Brandon very much. They appreciated Brandon's gentleness and kisses and gestures of affection, including flowers. When Brandon moved to Falls City, she began to date Lana Tisdel and to hang out with Thomas Nissen, 21, and John Lotter, 22. They liked Brandon when they thought she was a man. Then Brandon was arrested for passing a forged check and charged under the name of Teena Brandon. Even worse, none of the girls in Falls City seemed the least bit concerned that Brandon had deceived them, and this infuriated Nissen and Lotter. Both had served time, both had trouble with women. The fact that former date Lana Tisdel preferred Brandon Teena OVER John Lotter and that even John's own sister Michelle Lotter was Brandon's friend fanned a stockpile of angry resentment that ignited into two hate crimes. First Nissen and Lotter beat and raped Brandon. Even though Brandon complained to police, Nissen and Lotter remained free to come and go. On New Year's Eve, Brandon and another friend, Philip Devine, 22, sought refuge with a friend in Humboldt, Lisa Lambert, 24, the mother of a nine-month-old baby boy, Tanner. Nissen and Lotter tracked down Brandon's temporary sanctuary, 30 miles from Falls City, and executed all three adults in Lambert's farmhouse, sparing only baby Tanner. Into this troubled community, documentarians Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir went straight to the primary sources to tell The Brandon Teena Story. They talked with Brandon's family and friends, with Lana Tisdel, with Lotter's family, with Lambert's family, with the police, and with out-of-towners who came to Nebraska specifically to observe the trial. We hear the brutal police questioning of Brandon after she was beaten and raped. The filmmakers question the convicted killers in prison. (Nissen received life without parole, Lotter faces the death penalty.) They are scary-looking thugs and their lack of remorse, or of any feeling except hatred for each other, is chilling. Meanwhile, Lana Tisdel sings a tribute song to the martyred Brandon. One surprising element of the documentary is its levity of tone. The effect is incongruous, but in no way disrespectful to the victims. The welcoming sign to Nebraska proclaims the good life. If one young person in the midst of a sexual identity crisis is such a threat, how good can that life be and, moreover, how safe can any of us be? Played at the Berlin Film Festival in 1998.

1998 89m/C D: Susan Muska, Greta Olafsdottir; W: Susan Muska, Greta Olafsdottir; C: Susan Muska.

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