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New Doc About Kitty Genovese Opens in Kew Gardens, Near Scene of Her Murder

"The Witness" opens at the Kew Gardens Cinemas on Friday, June 10.
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DNAinfo.com/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

The murder of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old bartender who was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death in the hallway of her apartment building on Austin Street in 1964, has haunted Kew Gardens for more than five decades.

The quiet neighborhood came to symbolize urban apathy, following newspaper reports that Genovese's neighbors heard her cries but did nothing to help her until it was too late, giving the name to the phenomenon that became known as "Genovese syndrome," or the bystander effect. 

But a new documentary about the case, “The Witness,” which opens Friday at Kew Gardens Cinemas, shies away from pointing fingers. Instead, it shows the murder from the perspective of Genovese's younger brother Bill who is still searching for the truth about his sister's story. 

Many locals said that they hope the film, which will be shown only steps away from where Genovese was killed near her apartment on Austin Street, will help change the perception of what happened.

Bill Genovese appears to share that goal. 

"Showing at the scene in Kew Gardens Queens of Kitty Genovese's murder, 'The Witness' breaks a vicious cycle of neighborhood branding,” he said in a statement.

Joseph De May, a local lawyer who has written numerous articles about the murder, and was interviewed for the film, said that the documentary “is scrupulous in trying to separate fact from fiction, and substitute accuracy for exaggeration.”

“There are no cheap shots here, and the neighborhood's image is not in any way blackened,” he said. "Without an honest look at what happened and why, we won't know the lessons to draw from it.”

 Kitty Genovese was 28 years old when she was killed on March 13, 1964, in the hallway of her 2-story apartment building on Austin Street.
Kitty Genovese was 28 years old when she was killed on March 13, 1964, in the hallway of her 2-story apartment building on Austin Street.
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska/ courtesy of Catherine Pelonero

Numerous Kew Gardens residents said they are planning to see the documentary, and some posted information about the upcoming screenings on neighborhood Facebook pages.

Andy Nagzan, a manager at Kew Gardens Cinemas, said that the theater has received many phone calls from residents inquiring about it.

“If it does well, we will keep it for a couple of months,” Nagzan said about the documentary. 

Aaron Adler, 87, who lives in the Mowbray building, across the street from where the murder took place, was one of the local residents interviewed for the film and appears in its opening shot.

“It’s the brother’s journey to find out the truth and also to get his sister known as a human being rather than just a murder victim,” said Adler, who described the movie as “very touching, very emotional.”

He said it's important to show the documentary in the neighborhood.

“This story keeps coming up and people should know about it and understand it,” said Adler, noting that a lot of Kew Gardens residents have become “a little defensive [when others] talk about the apathy over here."

Other residents said they hope the movie will simply remind people that they should always take action. 

“Make that call, do something,” said Michelle Lazow, who also lives in the Mowbray building and is planning to see the movie this weekend.

"People have a short memory; maybe they need to be reminded and not be so cavalier about what’s going on in our society today and the dangers that are all around us," she added. 

"The Witness" opens at Kew Gardens Cinemas at 81-05 Lefferts Blvd., this Friday, June 10, with a special Q&A with director James Solomon and Bill Genovese following the 7:35 p.m. show.