Winner 2005

The Staircase

Maha Films

In The Staircase, director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade drills into events surrounding a controversial, high-profile murder case in Durham, North Carolina, from preliminary investigation to final verdict. Artfully photographed by Isabelle Razavet and enhanced with a distinctive score by Jocelyn Pook, it begins by taking viewers back to the night of December 9, 2001, when novelist Michael Peterson made a 911 call to report that his wife, Kathleen, a prominent corporate executive, was unconscious at the bottom of a stairwell in their lavish home. There’s no overly dramatic narrator here, just Peterson’s personal account of the events as he says they unfolded. There are no reenactments, just photographs of blood-spattered stairs and walls that police investigators decided were the result of an assault, not an accident. Seven subsequent hour-long episodes provide an extensively detailed and equally compelling account of the investigation and subsequent trial. Drawn from interviews made possible by the filmmakers’ unprecedented access to Peterson, his family, and his defense team, the narrative captures perspectives of those convinced of Peterson’s guilt as well as those who believe without question in his innocence. Peterson’s presence and persona elicit conflicting responses from viewers as well as those who are party to the case. De Lestrade, producer Denis Poncet, and co-producer Allyson Luchak raise questions about the American judicial system and how justice may be swayed by prejudices about class and sexual orientation. For taking viewers deep into the moral ambiguities of the legal system, The Staircase wins a Peabody Award.


Producer: Denis Poncet. Co-Producer: Allyson Luchak. Director: Jean-Xavier de Lestrade. Cinematographer: Isabelle Razavet. Composer: Jocelyn Pook.