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Death & Taxes

Indie documaker Jeffrey F. Jackson sticks it to the IRS and the feds in "Death & Taxes," a hard-hitting reinvestigation of the 1983 Gordon Kahl case, about which questions still linger. Jackson's unfazed, investigative reporting style approach and inventive handling of familiar material make this a controversial item for fests and progressive webs. Non-U.S. viewers will also get a charge out of its conspiracy theme.

With:
With: Gordon Kahl, Toots Mathis, Joan Kahl, Yorie Kahl, Jack McLamb.

Indie documaker Jeffrey F. Jackson sticks it to the IRS and the feds in “Death & Taxes,” a hard-hitting reinvestigation of the 1983 Gordon Kahl case, about which questions still linger. Jackson’s unfazed, investigative reporting style approach and inventive handling of familiar material make this a controversial item for fests and progressive webs. Non-U.S. viewers will also get a charge out of its conspiracy theme.

Docu’s intriguingly non-linear structure starts with un-intro’d cross-cutting between recent footage of Kahl’s exhumation, news footage of the 1983 shootout and interviews with relatives and friends. Though initially confusing for those not closely acquainted with the affair, Jackson’s slow-burning approach yields dividends later as the mists clear and the pieces fall into place with a vengeance.

Through interviews and archive material, Jackson traces Kahl’s background from North Dakota farmer turned WWII hero, to disillusionment with FDR and the post-war welfare program, to his unilateral opt-out from the country’s social security system in 1968 and subsequent harassment by the IRS.

AsKahl’s opposition to the federal system became more vocal, encouraging people to start “township governments,” the authorities slowly moved in, prompted by the area’s new marshal. Final shootout and manhunt in summer 1983 ended at a remote Arkansas farmhouse, with a body claimed to be Kahl’s burnt beyond recognition.

Though Jackson’s sympathies for the maverick Kahl are never in doubt, he presents a persuasive armory of evidence, eyewitness reports and fundamental questions that support his cage-rattling approach (which even includes a sideswipe at Bill Clinton, then-governor of Arkansas).

Lack of captions identifying interviewees is initially annoying, but Jackson’s technique of letting them ID themselves via what they say is ultimately involving. Visual style for interviews is straight talking-head, though pointedly cut and never dull. Occasional use of music is flavorsome, underscoring snowballing conspiracy atmosphere.

Docu includes a clip from NBC’s ’91 telepic “In the Line of Duty: Manhunt in the Dakotas,” in which Rod Steiger played Kahl.

Pic is the result of three years of videotaped interviews, subsequently transferred to film. Result on the big screen is OK but far from high-def quality.

At London Fest world preem, Jackson revealed he was still in dispute with the U.K.’s Channel 4, which provided some of the original coin but now wants pic recut in a more linear structure. Jackson plans U.S. release around the fiscally sensitive date of April 15.

Death & Taxes

Production: A Country People production. (Intl. sales: Country People Prods., Venice, Calif.) Produced by Jeffrey F. Jackson. Exec producer (for Channel 4), Angela Kaye. Directed, written by Jackson.

Crew: Camera (color), Tracy Adams, Jackson, Allison Hoffman; editors, Adams, Jackson, Martyn Hone; music, Adams; art direction, Jim Haddon, Peter Lloyd; sound, Jackson, Adams. Reviewed at London Film Festival, Nov. 20, 1993. Running time: 113 min.

With: With: Gordon Kahl, Toots Mathis, Joan Kahl, Yorie Kahl, Jack McLamb.

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