Theme: Murder

A powerful, personal account of sexual secrets, homicide and its aftermath
Year Released
Film Length(s)
54 mins
Closed captioning available
Remote video URL

Featured review

...generously takes the audience into the emotions and wisdoms known only to those who have lost a loved-one to murder. Theme: Murder leaves us with a mystery, but also many answers about ourselves and our society.
Gavin de Becker
author, "The Gift of Fear"


A true crime story of murder, secrets and sexuality, set in the art world of the 50's and 60's, Theme: Murder takes the viewer on an immersive journey into the struggles and frustrations of living with an unsolved homicide. The filmmaker was nine years old in 1968 when her father, the Boston art dealer Hyman Swetzoff, was beaten and left to die in his home. Martha's search to make sense of her father's unsolved murder frames a wide-ranging inquiry into attitudes toward victims and survivors of homicide, the price of homophobia, and the problematic relationship between families and law enforcement. Includes interviews with crime fiction author James Ellroy and the Boston Cold Case Squad.


Loved it! The film illustrates how one woman's journey of self-discovery can help us all...a useful tool that will provoke cognitive discussion as well as emotional discovery within almost any group.
Katherine Manners
Director, Living After Murder Program
Mesmerizing, sensual, formally ambitious. Fabulous.
Gerald Peary
Boston Phoenix and Acting Curator, Harvard Film Archive
A stirring piece of cinematic humanism...The mix of the personal and universal makes Theme: Murder a prime example of the first-person moviemaking that's long been a Boston tradition is such films as Ross McElwee's Sherman's March, Robb Moss' The Tourist, and Jeanne Jordan and Steve Ascher's Troublesome Creek.
Paul Sherman
Boston Herald
Martha Swetzoff's brilliant analytical strength makes Theme: Murder apowerful, emotional experience!
Gripping...darkly hypnotic...a haunting film.
Andrew Goldman
Boston Magazine

Awards and Screenings

Silver Hugo, Chicago International Film Festival, 1999
Best Documentary, The New (NY Gay & Lesbian) Festival, New York City, 1999
International Critics Award, Figueira da Foz Festival, 2000
Gold Apple Award, National Educational Media Network, 1999
Special Jury prize, New England Film Festival, 1999
Nominated Best Documentary by The Boston Society of Film Critics , 1999
Theatrical run, Laemmle Theaters, Los Angeles, 2000
New Filmmakers Selection, Anthology Film Archives, NYC, 2000
Broadcast, WGBH, 2000
Hawaii IFF, 1999
Thessaloniki IFF, 2000
Vancouver IFF, 2000
Ful Frame IFF, 1999
INPUT 2000 selection
OUTFEST '99, 1999
Bay State Correctional Facility
The Provincetown Film Festival, 2000
Harvard Film Archive, Harvard University
The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 1998
Atlanta Film & Video Festival, 1999
San Francisco IFF, 2000

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Closed Captioning

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

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