Three Identical Strangers
by director Tim Wardle
I was never supposed to direct this film. Five years ago, I was working as an ideas guy for a London-based production company, Raw—my job was to sift through the hundreds of ideas sent in and developed at the company each week, and work out which ones to pitch to funders. Doing that job, you quickly become very jaded—to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, you start to believe ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’
But one day, a producer brought in the story of three identical triplet brothers who’d been separated at birth and raised by three different families, unaware of each other’s existence until they were reunited by chance at the age of 19 in New York, 1980. Immediately, I knew that it was the most extraordinary story I’d ever heard—and I soon learned that this was only the opening part of an astonishing, mind-bending narrative spanning more than 50 years. If I’d known then that the film would take half a decade to make, I might have reconsidered, but from that moment onward the story had its claws in me and I knew I had to direct it.
The film you see is in many ways my attempt to recapture the emotions I felt—joy, wonder, sadness and anger—the first time I heard about the triplets’ story. For me, the primary aim of documentary is to tap into emotional truth—if a film doesn’t make you feel then it doesn’t matter how well researched or constructed it is. As a director, the only way you can achieve this is if your contributors are prepared to be emotionally honest about the moments that have shaped their lives. Sometimes these are the most painful and difficult memories and feelings they’ve ever experienced. I was incredibly fortunate that the triplets and their families trusted me enough to open their hearts up to the camera, allowing an audience to mainline their deepest emotions.
Stylistically, Three Identical Strangers is a love letter to documentary making in all its forms. Documentary is a broad church, and it always surprises me how vociferously some people believe their specific interpretation of the form is sacrosanct. I’ve been fortunate to work on many different films with many different styles—from musical documentaries to observational films, testimony and archive pieces, and reconstruction drama-docs. Elements of all of these suffuse Three Identical Strangers—for any given scene, I wanted to be free to use whichever technique would be most effective in helping me in my pursuit of that precious emotional truth.