After buying North American rights to Three Identical Strangers, Tim Wardle’s Jury Prize-winning Sundance doc, Neon reunited the director with producer Becky Read and executive producer Dimitri Doganis for a panel explaining how this amazing story – of how three total strangers found out in the ‘80s, at the age of 19, that they were identical triplets, separated at birth – made it to the big screen.
The three were keen to preserve some of the film’s mysteries, since it has yet to debut theatrically in the UK, but they were happy to discuss its storied history.
As Wardle noted, it began quite unexpectedly. “I was running development at Raw,” he said. “The company I worked for made documentaries like The Imposter and American Animals, and someone brought this story in. Doing that job, you get very cynical – you see a lot of the same ideas again and again, and you get very jaded. But as soon as it came in, I was like, ‘This is the single best story, documentary or drama, I’ve ever come across. We have to make this film.’”
Read took up the story. “There were a couple of attempts to make it before,” she said. “And they had been buried or put on a shelf, for reasons we don’t know. It was a challenge just trying to find people to talk about it. I mean, it’s an old story, it happened years ago, lots of people are dead, and the ones that are alive didn’t particularly want to talk about it. So that was very difficult. It was a big process of just gathering people’s names, knocking on doors, and sending letters.”
“It took a long time,” added Doganis. “As Becky said, a lot of people say didn’t want to talk about it. There are some very powerful and quite shady organizations which pop up in the second half of the film who have deliberately tried to kind of shut down any discussion of this subject, and have stymied previous attempts to make the film with the brothers. I think they’ve gone through a lot in their lives. When you watch the film, it really is a rollercoaster, and they were very reticent to talk. It took us the best part of four years, really, to win them ’round. It was a softly, softly kind of approach – a lot of meetings without cameras and flying to New York to meet them – to keep it ticking over.”
Since January, Wardle’s film has become something of a festival fixture, travelling on the North American and European circuit. So what’s the appeal? “I think the thing that grabbed us about the story is that it works on so many levels,” said Doganis. “You’ve got this amazing human story, these brothers who’d been separated and then reunited. But it also allows you to ask much bigger questions – questions about nature versus nurture, and about how we become who we are. There are very, very few documentaries that work on multiple levels.”