'Unseen' Gives Voice to Victims of Anthony Sowell

Relatives of missing women from the neighborhood crowded Imperial Avenue looking for closure after serial killer Anthony Sowell was arrested. Michelle Mason was one of his 11 victims (David C. Barnett / ideastream)
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News crews from around the world flocked to Imperial Avenue on Cleveland’s east side in 2009 as the bodies of 11 women were removed from the home of Anthony Sowell.  Local filmmaker Laura Paglin was drawn to the scene as well, starting a seven-year journey to tell the story of the serial killer’s crimes. 

The police cordoned off Anthony Sowell's Imperial Avenue home after the bodies of his victims were discovered (David C. Barnett / ideastream)

Her documentary, “Unseen” is not a biography of Sowell.

“Early on, I did decide I’m not interested in doing ‘The Mind of a Serial Killer’”, she said.  “I knew I wanted to do something about the victims.”

But, she soon realized that it would be hard to recreate the lives of the murdered victims.  Most of the families didn’t have many photos of the women, because they were part of a pre-digital era.

“So, I decided to focus more on the victims who escaped, to kind of have them speak for the dead,” she said.

“Unseen” took over six years to complete.  Paglin said that’s not unusual for documentaries.

“I probably did about 40 interviews,” she said.  “I used maybe 12, altogether.  It took a couple years even just to edit it. It’s a very complex story.”

“Unseen” debuted at the 2016 Cleveland International Film Festival.  More recently, it’s aired on broadcast television in Europe, and it’s now streaming in the U.S.  Paglin says she has mixed feelings about the impact of modern technology on the way audiences view her movies.  She prefers the theatrical experience.

“It’s really the most satisfying way to watch a film, just to be able to see the audience respond,” she said.  “But unfortunately, it’s not really sustainable these days.  It’s a good thing that we have streaming available.  It’s opened up many channels for films that couldn’t be seen otherwise.”

"Unseen" gets a special screening Sunday at the Cleveland Cinematheque.  Here's a preview:

UNSEEN (excerpt) from Laura Paglin on Vimeo.

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