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Documentaries & Non-Fiction Series

Director Skye Borgman’s “The Truth About Jim” Examines Generational Trauma and the Life of a Potential Serial Killer 

Director Skye Borgman’s “The Truth About Jim” Examines Generational Trauma and the Life of a Potential Serial Killer

Trigger warnings: Rape and sexual assault

Amateur investigator Sierra Barter spent over two years of her life unearthing and examining family secrets about her step-grandfather Jim Mordecai. He terrorized every member of his family and at least a few members of the community at large. And even more than a decade after his death, Sierra’s family was scared and hesitant to discuss their suspicions about Jim and his actions when he was alive.

As a way to cope with her own traumatic past, Sierra set out to unearth who Jim really was and how his actions have plagued three generations of her family. In this 4-part documentary series Sierra, her mother Shannon and her grandmother Judy bravely pursue the truth about a mystery that could change their lives forever — was Jim Mordecai, their husband, step-father and step-grandfather actually a notorious serial killer?

TRAILER:

I had a chance to speak exclusively with director Skye Borgman about her involvement in the film, the importance of telling a story like this, accountability and much more.

TV GOODNESS: Jim Mordecai was a terror to his immediate and extended family and to at least some of the community at large, even after his death. Why was it important for you personally to become involved with this documentary?

Skye Borgman: “I think this documentary, maybe more than others that I have done, really looks at generational trauma and how a series of traumatic events in a family can ripple down. I mean, when you look at Sierra Barter, it was really her mother and her grandmother who went through what I think we would classically consider trauma. But because of the trauma that both of them had experienced, Sierra experiences trauma of her own. So looking at how that trauma can really go through a family was important to me.”

TV GOODNESS: In any narrative about accountability, at least the docs I’ve seen and the stories I’ve heard, it’s the women who are calling out the behavior and examining how and why they are victimized. What was your approach when talking with the women?

Skye Borgman: “All of the women involved in this story are brave, beautiful, smart, incredible women. And they were nervous too, right? I mean, [it’s] one thing to talk amongst members of your family about abuse that has gone on. It’s a whole other thing to open yourself up to a documentary format where you’re going through meeting members of your family, talking about really challenging topics with a camera following you.

So it really was to be there to listen, to not force anything, but to encourage people to talk and share their stories and give them talking points in case that they might shy away from something, but to give them things to talk about. And ultimately, I really believe that people respond to it. It’s hard. I mean, this is a hard thing to do for people. It’s hard [to] talk to family members. It’s hard to be thinking about a camera being there. ‘Am I saying it the right way? Am I going to sound silly? Did I mess up on that word?’

So there’s these different lenses that people have on themselves when you’re doing a documentary like this. But ultimately — and talking with the family too — I feel like this was a positive experience for them. I think it was a hard experience, but at the end of the day, I feel like everybody feels as if they’re better on this side of it than they were on the other side.

TV GOODNESS: Absolutely. Because Jim was a serial rapist with other violent tendencies, some of his family believed him capable of murder. How did you go about constructing that narrative?

Skye Borgman: “When we’re looking at the murder narrative of this, I think it really comes from Sierra and her having a pretty balanced perspective to it. We know that she didn’t experience trauma firsthand from Jim Mordecai. She was a little bit more separated from it. So it also gives her the ability to look at things with a little bit more distance.

Sometimes it could be hard for Shannon or even Judy, her grandmother, to separate themselves, but Sierra has that ability to do that. And so I think she also was very good at just seeing things as possibilities, not as truths. She wasn’t ever rushing to say he absolutely did this. She was always open to questioning and to have answers come in that either fit her narrative or didn’t fit her narrative. And that’s what I think was really the most powerful aspect of Sierra launching this investigation.”

TV GOODNESS: Since this is a four part series, you have so much story to tell. How did you go about organizing and constructing the episodes?

Skye Borgman: “From the beginning when I first met Sierra and when I first heard about the idea that she felt that her step-grandfather could have been a serial killer, I started to think about where the idea of this came about. And usually ideas like this or thoughts like this start very small. So I really wanted to take that initial idea and grow and have it get bigger as we go bigger and bigger from episode 1, 2, 3, and 4.

So it really starts in the family, and it really starts in having these conversations with the family. It starts with the mom and her grandmother, these three women that are at the core of this. And then going and talking to her aunts and then going and talking to experts, and then really looking at these crimes that exist around her in a bigger way. So that was what was driving, for me, the structure.”

TV GOODNESS: As a documentary filmmaker, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that viewers will never see or ever even know about. Is there anything you’d like them to know about the series in particular, or even about making documentary films in general?

Skye Borgman: “I’d say that in making, especially the genre that I live in, which is true crime, it’s important as much as you can to laugh when the cameras aren’t rolling, even to laugh when the cameras are rolling. But to have an environment where everybody feels safe, and to have some laughter in there if it’s at all possible.

Look, we never want to make anybody feel like they’re being laughed at, but to be able to laugh with people and have a good environment is probably the key.”

TV GOODNESS: I love that. In general, what do you hope people will take away from the series?

Skye Borgman: “I hope people talk. I mean, I hope people realize the power of talking about things. They don’t need to talk in the way that Sierra and Shannon and Judy and the rest of the family are talking. They don’t have to do it in an incredibly public way in a documentary series.

But I think that it is something that helps all of us, to talk about things. And the more you talk about something, the less of a weight it becomes. Find a therapist. Talk to somebody within your family. It doesn’t have to be hundreds and hundreds of people, but just tell your story. Have people who you depend on, have people who you trust and talk about it.”

TV GOODNESS: I think that’s a great message. As a final question, is there anything we didn’t talk about that you hope people will notice or take away from the film?

Skye Borgman: “What I like so much about this film is three generations of women coming together and telling their story in a very public way. I think that you see these three generations of women, you see what they have in common. You see how they deal with things the same and differently. And I think it’s a really inspiring thing to see these three generations.”

Edited for content and clarity.

The Truth About Jim is a 4-part series premiering Thursday, February 15th on MAX.

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