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The Killing of John Lennon

By Peter Sorel-Cameron for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- A new release from the small Picture Players studio, "The Killing of John Lennon" is a gem from the world of independent cinema.

Focusing on Mark Chapman, the man who shot John Lennon outside his New York apartment, the film gives a detailed and unique portrayal of a deeply troubled man.

The movie is based on Chapman's diaries and writing, featuring a number of extracts taken directly from them, and covers the three months leading up to the shooting as well as the huge public reaction that came in the ensuing year.

Although it focuses on an event that is internationally infamous, the film also boasts a series of relatively unknown details.

Chapman himself is something of a mystery, and in previous tellings of the ex-Beatle's death, the killer himself is sidelined.

Director Andrew Piddington explained to CNN why this hadn't been tackled before: "Today you get people who say the film should not be made, not because they don't want to address the issue, but because they don't want to give Chapman any more notoriety." "This film is not about that, this film is about trying to understand the psychology behind it."

The actor who plays the figure at the center of this portrait of a trouble man, Jonas Ball, is also a newcomer to the spotlight.

Ball, who's graduated from bit-parts on TV, takes on the role of Chapman with immense skill, giving a powerful and subtle insight into the mind of an obsessive killer.

Piddington found the actor when they worked together as day players in LA, and has a great admiration for his leading man's ability.

"He has an immense presence on the screen, he's got stillness, he's got cinematic quality," the director remarks. "You look at him, you don't look at anybody else, and that's the great thing of any strong actor."

In his first role in a motion picture Ball is already turning heads in the industry, and his performance in "The Killing..." is earning him some very strong reviews: Variety describes it as a "fearless and commanding lead performance;" and the Edinburgh International Film Festival Web site calls him "extraordinary."

Like many independent films, making "The Killing..." was reliant on finding the funding to fulfill the director's needs, and this money is rarely forthcoming.

"Producing and directing a movie that has sporadic funding is extremely difficult; you have to maintain a particular vision," Piddington explains. "When you don't know where the next dime is going to come from, you have to be able to calm yourself, walk away and then come back."

Even with this impediment, the film offers a remarkable feature in terms of production: it was filmed entirely on location -- from Hawaii to New York -- visiting the places where Chapman spent the months prior to the shooting, putting the killer in context and giving more detail to his life before he came to New York.

They also filmed outside the famous Dakota Building in New York, where Lennon had been living up to 1980 when he was killed, and where the shooting took place. [Any chance of a picture of this amongst the images?]

The foyer of the Dakota was the only place where they couldn't film, thwarted by bureaucratic guidelines about getting permission for shooting.

Without the backing of a major investor and in the face of these restrictions, the film-makers were forced to employ guerilla tactics to get footage of their actors outside the New York building, getting as close as possible to the Dakota's front.

Complications aside, this is a well-made and thought-provoking film that touches the heart of a very sensitive issue, shedding light on the life of a man many still consider a monster. Made without the support of a major studio, it is truly an indie masterpiece.


This new independent film profiles Mark Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon.


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