Murder On Middle Beach is an eight-year odyssey taken by Madison Hamburg, which plays as a love letter to his deceased mother, Barbara.
Madison was only 18 when his mother was found murdered outside of their home in Middle Beach, and it threatened to take the foundation out from under him.
Part of his journey to recovery was using his life-long passion for film to take a college professor’s advice and turn a short into a full length documentary.
Murder On Middle Beach finds Madison documenting his hunt for clues and answers surrounding his mother’s unsolved murder, and it taken him down long and winding roads uncovering family secrets that ultimately help the family to heal and reconnect.
It’s an incredibly moving piece of film, and one that pulls the viewer directly into the world of true crime, something that has become a form of entertainment for many.
There is nothing entertaining about Madison’s personal quest for peace of mind in light of a terrible tragedy, but it’s rewarding to watch the young man fight for his family, doing his mother proud with his enduring love and commitment while trying to lay to rest the turbulence with those he cares for most in the world.
Madison never set out to make a film. When his mom died, he was a drug addict, and his first response was to run instead of accepting the world without her, he told us. “It’s really scary to think that someone close to you could suddenly die in the way that she did. And I hit rock bottom that year.”
He went to rehab, got sober, and went back to school, finally getting on he feet again when he realized that time was not on his side when trying to hold onto his mother’s memory.
“I think, at first, the part of the process that I got almost addicted to was discovering who my mother was. And with time working against me, I just was almost obsessive. Because when she died, I was very scared of losing her voice, losing her face,” Madison said.
“So when I started doing these interviews as a part of a documentary class, I started discovering that my mom wasn’t just the superhero that she was when I was growing up. She was Barbara and had all of these complexities and conflicts that she was struggling with. And it’s almost like I was grieving someone I didn’t know. And so as a part of my grieving process, coming to understand who she was and, in turn, my own identity became really addictive.”
“I guess when we set out, I was a sophomore in film school, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just knew that I didn’t want to lose her, and this was an opportunity to immortalize that. And we didn’t submit a short film, which is what we were supposed to do for the end of documentary class. We submitted a trailer, and my professor basically said, ‘I’ll give you an A if you promise never to stop working on this.'”
Documenting his mother’s life and his journey of discovery required him to speak in depth with his family. They confront some long-held secrets and share with Madison thoughts on those and who they believe might have been responsible for his mother’s death. But getting them on board wasn’t as difficult as it might sound because they all cared greatly for Barbara.
“I don’t think in the very beginning, anyone expected this to be on national television, let alone HBO. I think that my family was really empathetic towards my loss and wanted to help me. And then in the long run, we all want the same thing. We want to know why my mom died.
“And obviously, with something unresolved, an unsolved murder, your family is supposed to be… You’re supposed to love them unconditionally. And some of my family members, it’s really hard for them to do that 100% because I think that it’s a very human thing to want answers for something.
“Because when someone dies or something terrible happens in your life, you don’t know why it happens. Your world becomes much less safe, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it from happening to you.
“So I think there’s this very just human need to loop tie. Because the other part of this is that our grieving process has been stunted or in limbo because we don’t know exactly what we’re grieving.
“So I think that my goal was to exonerate people and bring people together. Because a part of everyone regrets the way my mom died, and losing touch with her and me and my family. And I think for them, too, being able to see this and see the story from all of these different perspectives in one place is a unifying experience. And I think in many ways, cathartic.
Madison presents his story with a very level head, something that doesn’t seem easy with the level of information he uncovers along the way and some members of his family viewed others with suspicion and a level of distrust resulting from the unknown.
Despite his youth, Madison never jumps to conclusions and treats every family member with kindness and compassion.
“There’s two things that I think about with that. One, I think that, just like I was saying, it’s a very human need to fill in dots. And confirmation bias is a very… If you start at what you think happened, it’s really easy to fill in dots. There’s a piece of the last episode where I consider that we, it’s actually kind of implored, but where I consider if I were the police’s main suspect. And I think it’s that I wanted to dispel that.
“And then also, there’s this duality between me as a filmmaker and me as a brother and nephew and son, and those are sometimes in conflict. I want to investigate this to the best of my ability, but sometimes that means asking blunt, direct questions to the people I love to exonerate them and dispel the lingering distrust. As tough as it can be for my sister or my aunt to watch the series, I think it’s been cathartic for them.”
Madison was just on the verge of adulthood when he began filming his documentary, so the most surprising things he learned while filming it pertain to lives his parents and other members of his family led that were so foreign to him when his mother was still alive.
“I think the most surprising thing for me was it started with my mom. And it sounds silly, but I was 18 when my mom died and 21 when I started the documentary. And realizing that she was a human being with all of this stress and things that she was protecting me from. It’s almost like it was in an effort to preserve my safety, but also my image of her.
“And I think the most, I guess it’s not shocking, but interesting thing for me was that there’s all these archetypes within my life. The police, my family, my aunt, my dad, my community. But at the end of the day, they’re all people who struggle with all these stressors that they don’t let paint those archetypes.
“I think that’s an overarching theme with the series, is that there’s this sense of American idealism where no matter how bad things are, the surfaces should always be rosy. It’s like a mantra of everything’s okay. If you say it enough times, it will be the truth or something.
“But just like with a picturesque, postcard community, with this gruesome murder, or with this police department that had a corruption scandal, or my dad, the archetype of the father versus who he was and his backstory. And my mom and the gifting tables as this self-help group for women, when a multi-level marketing scheme with an impossible exponential growth model was always bound to collapse at some point.
“So I think there’s this overarching theme of duality and American idealism that you always think that’s the case, but really examining it and examining the backstory and the conflicts that all of those people are dealing with, it was just illuminating. I feel a lot more empathetic towards stories that are different from mine.”
Talking too much about the rest of the conversation might ruin the experience Madison has worked to hard to create, and you really must tune into the premiere of Murder On Middle Beach.
Taking this journey and sharing it with us has solidified Madison’s passion for filmmaking, and his compassion and empathy cements his love of film, whether he continues to share his quest for answers or goes elsewhere for inspiration.
“I’m very hopeful about the future with my mom’s case. It feels like we’re about to enter a new chapter. And I also will say that in obsessing over my mom’s life, I’ve found, maybe not through simply investigative documentary, but character-driven human stories in whatever subgenre of documentary, is definitely something that I’ve grown extremely passionate about.”
It might be a long time before this chapter of Madison’s life is over, but his commitment to his mother’s cause has also ignited in him a desire to bring hope to others who share his fate.
“Setting out, I always thought if the series didn’t solve the murder, and maybe hopefully by the end of it, that’s not the central question or central conflict that we’re trying to resolve, it becomes a tool in raising awareness and a different type of transparency, and reactivates the case.
If you or anyone you know lives in the area and might have tips on the unsolved murder of Barbara Hamburg, please visit Barbara Hamburg Tips.
Murder On Middle Beach premieres Sunday, November 15 at 10/9c on HBO. Episodes will roll out weekly at the same time and will be streaming on HBO Max the next day.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.