Burden of Proof movie review & film summary (2023)

The excellent filmmaker Cynthia Hill (“Private Violence”) probably presumed that “Burden of Proof” would be a feature film, but the saga stretched out over so many years that it shifted into a series. She spent a great deal of time over seven years with Stephen Pandos, capturing in real time his investigations into the life-shaping disappearance of his sister. The first half of the series is very procedural in a fascinating way as Stephen meets with experts, questions investigators, and spirals around the obvious conclusion that his parents know more than they claim.

In February 1987, Jennifer Pandos simply vanished. A friend remembers speaking to her on the phone that night and hearing her father Ronald yelling at her to hang it up. Stephen alleges that Ronald had a violent temper, accusing him of choking and hitting his children. The next morning, Jen was gone. Mother Margie claims that her door was locked, and she was never seen again. The Pandos family lived in a gated, safe community. There were no signs of a break-in. There was, however, a note that only made the case more confusing. In and out of police custody, the note claims to be from someone with Jennifer, alleging that she’s fine, asking for money, and quoting Jen herself. It made little sense. And it cast even more suspicion on the parents.

They didn’t help their case. Stephen talks to relatives who claim that Jen’s parents never said anything about the case. The police accuse Mom of not returning calls, which could have been about finding Jen (suggesting Margie knew she wasn’t going to be found). Memory and reality start to blur. In one of his prison stints, Dad suggests he could show them where his body is. Mom fails a lie detector test. A handwriting examination can’t rule her out as the writer of the note. All signs point to a violent altercation and a cover-up. At least, as Hill presents it, it makes complete sense that Stephen would come to the conclusions that he draws.