News Column

Boise Filmmaker Plans Documentary about TF Serial Killer

November 6, 2013


Nov. 06--TWIN FALLS -- A Boise filmmaker received a $5,000 grant to launch a documentary about Twin Falls' legendary serial killer.

Bronwyn Leslie is starting work on "Lyda," which will chronicle the life of Lyda Southard.

Southard, who lived in Twin Falls in the early 1900s, is believed to be the country's first female serial killer.

She is said to have poisoned four husbands and a brother-in-law for the insurance money.

The Idaho Film Office grant will help Leslie make the film, which will include a chronology of Southard's life using archival materials, expert testimonials, interviews with area historians and reenactments.

Leslie's interest was sparked when she portrayed the role of Southard during a Halloween improvisation show a few years ago.

"I just became fascinated by the story and kind of sat on it for three years," she said.

When she met David Thompson, now producer for the documentary, Leslie discovered they shared an interest in Southard's story.

The story is a hidden gem, Thompson said, and they want to showcase it.

Thompson said Leslie is incredibly creative and wants to bring Southard's voice into the documentary in a way she's not normally portrayed.

"We really want to get into the head of Lyda and made people experience her perspective a little bit more," Thompson said.

"Lyda" will be informational but otherwise different from a typical historical documentary, he said. It will include a blend of narrative elements in an effort to bring Southard to life.

"It will be a visual version of what everyone already knows is a wonderful tale," Thompson said.

The documentary also will take a look at what criminal trials were like at the time and if anything in Southard's trial was skewed due to her gender.

The film is in the pre-production phase now, Leslie said. She's leaving soon for a 10-week music tour and will resume the work afterward.

Production likely will start in late December or early January. The goal is to have the documentary finished by early spring.

Leslie said she may visit the Twin Falls area during production and would like to see Southard's grave at Sunset Memorial Park.

Interviews already are underway, said Thompson.

Leslie said everyone they have talked to wants to know how they can help.

"I think it is really something Idaho is hungry for and willing to support in every capacity," she said.

The Idaho Film Office's grant program is intended to advance the filmmaking workforce around the state.

The office received 22 applications representing a variety of project types. About half were documentaries.

Five judges -- all of whom are Idaho filmmakers -- scored the applications.

Burley resident Shana Mortensen was one of the judges.

"I myself am very excited to see Lyda's story play out in film,"she wrote in an email to the Times-News. "After judging the application fully, I believe that this film will be a successful one that can hopefully be made into a feature later on."

Southard's story already has a high volume of popularity, she wrote.

"In light of the Zimmerman trials, it is obvious that every era has infamous media hot trials where people debate the truth," Southard said. "Stories like these deeply intrigue our voyeuristic nature as people because we want to understand the taboo. Add the fact that Lyda is a female, particularly the first female serial killer, and that sums to create a very strong recipe for cinematic success."

Grant recipients will work with the Idaho Film Office to complete their projects by Dec. 31, 2014, and provide progress reports along the way.

Leslie, originally from Alabama, moved to Boise nine years ago. She studied video journalism at Boise State University, with an emphasis in cinema and digital media. She said she has spent 2 1/2 years building the film industry in Boise and also worked as a director for Treefort Music Fest.

Thompson just graduated from Chapman University in Orange, Calif., with a bachelor's degree in film production. He has traveled around the world through the university and leaves for India in mid-August to participate in a film program through Chapman.

Thompson said his interest is in global storytelling, especially films that promote human rights, social sustainability and justice.

"If there's a sprinkle of that in the film, I'm super good to go," he said.


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