Forever ‘B’ is a documentary feature I stumbled upon at the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, Alabama. I initially met the director and producer at the festival and after some engaging conversation was eager to see their work (which I had previously known nothing about). Two days later I was lucky to get tickets for the added (still packed) screening the festival offered due to the popularity of the movie’s first show…and let me tell you it did not disappoint.
The film is a stand out example of true crime documentary. The story itself is immediately engaging. Beginning in Idaho in October 1974 Jan Broberg was repeatedly kidnapped by an older “family man”, charismatic neighbor, member of her church and close friend of the family. The often-terrifying documentary explores not only what happened to Jan, but also how the family was manipulated into allowing it to transpire. Director Skye Borgman uses riveting interviews and well-made reenactments to reveal surprising layers of self-indictment as her family exposes their own secrets about how Robert Berchtold sought out their daughter and ultimately bent the entire family to his will.
I am hesitant to give away very many specifics, because in this case the devil really is in the details. This is no ordinary kidnapping. The culprit is not some stranger stealing away the Broberg’s daughter in the night, but a psychopath who carefully weaves a web of relationships with not just Jan, but her mother and father as well. He is never too far out of reach but uses calculated mental abuse of the entire family to stymie efforts by local law enforcement to recover Jan or bring him to justice. It is in the careful reveal of these devil’s details that lies the genius of Forever ‘B’.
These twists reveal the many ways a vulnerable child, her desires to be special and a natural tendency toward rebellion can all be cultivated by a victimizer – that is expected in this kind of case – but it doesn’t stop there. Berchtold uses elements of psychology, sexual advances and even sci-fi to exploit similar needs in the very people that could have protected her, and that is what is most chilling in the documentary. Frankly, Berchtold’s methods would be called out as too outlandish to possibly work if this were just a scripted Hollywood thriller. They might even make you laugh. As you watch the documentary, and the fact that this did really happen sinks in, you can’t help but sympathize with Jan and her family, and you can’t help but realize how truly horrible (and not humorous at all) it must’ve been for them.
This was easily one of my favorite films I saw on the festival circuit this year, and it is no wonder that the production won awards at the Tallgrass Film Festival, the Bend Film Fest, DocUtah and the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival. Skye Borgman, along with co-producers Emily Kincaid and Stephanie Tobey and editor James Cude, have crafted a must see for any fan of true crime documentaries.