“Most Films Go Through What I Call an Accordion Process:” Editors Inbal Lessner and Kim Roberts on Victim/Suspect

Feb 1, 2023

Below, editors Inbal Lessner and Kim Roberts discuss their work on Nancy Schwartzman’s Sundance-premiering Netflix documentary, Victim/Suspect, her follow-up to the doc Roll Red Roll. The film deals with alleged victims rape and sexual assault who find themselves on the other end of legal charges when they are accused of making false accusations.
See all responses to our annual Sundance editor interviews here.
Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the editor of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?
Lessner: Nancy Schwartzman and I crossed paths briefly when we were both doing outreach work related to sexual assault about a decade ago, and I admired her innovative ideas. When I was first contacted about this film and scheduled a call with Nancy, I tried to do my homework the night before and catch up on her latest film, Roll Red Roll. It was late at night and I planned to watch the first 10 minutes, but found it so enthralling that I couldn’t stop and watched all of it. I remember thinking that I would not change one splice in that film, and so it made me excited to work with her, because I sensed that she would challenge me to do my best work. I guess I was lucky that no one better was available and I got the job!
Roberts: Inbal and I worked together in the past, and she reached out to me to join the team and help in the last stretch of editing. I was very taken with the reporter– her diligence and willingness to follow the stories wherever they led.
Filmmaker: In terms of advancing your film from its earliest assembly to your final cut, what were goals as an editor? What elements of the film did you want to enhance, or preserve, or tease out or totally reshape?
Lessner: I was privileged to join the project before Nancy started filming, and had some time to review all the footage that Rae De Leon (the journalist protagonist) had collected in her initial reporting phase, including the police investigation videos and audio recordings, which became the heart of the film. I got to work with Nancy to pull the most illuminating moments from these lengthy police investigations, and helped her plan the use of these clips during production – playing on Rae’s computer screen or iPad – to enhance the experience of watching an active investigation unfolding in real-time. I wanted the viewers to feel the same disbelief and outrage about these videos that I felt when I first watched them.
As we moved from assembly towards final cut, my main challenge was to shape Rae’s investigation of these seemingly disjointed cases into one propulsive arc and let Rae guide us from one case to the next. It was also important to find the right balance between the survivor stories and Rae’s search for answers. I wanted the viewers to get emotionally invested in Rae’s quest for answers, be enraged when she gets doors slammed in her face or people not returning her calls, and thrilled when she has breakthroughs. To that end, we wanted the investigative journalistic process, which can be quite tedious, to look and feel exciting cinematically, like a thriller.

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