The film follows the grassroots organisation, Citizens for Truth for a year. The group is formed to investigate why a black man, Alek Hidell, shot by a rookie LAPD officer minutes after the death of Gates, is blamed for the murder. Hidell, a social activist, is accused of wanting to start a class war by executing Gates. Citizens for Truth is headed up by two co-Presidents, the organised and efficient Debra Meagher (Laurie Pike), and the dedicated but hotheaded David James (also the actor’s name). The group sets up focus meetings and determines to agitate for the release of the files by the LAPD, and to counter the Garcetti Report–the official internal report conducted by the LAPD about the shooting of Gates and Hidell.
Flemming proves himself a master of the conventions of documentary filmmaking. What is fascinating is how quickly the film sucks in the viewer. Flemming does this by creating a self-consistent world, keeping the subjects and their attempts to uncover the conspiracy behind the deaths totally serious, and allowing the viewer to delight in the rich multi-layered satire without any obvious winking on the part of the director. We follow the group recreating the crime scene, investigating the confused testimony by Julia Serrano that is pivotal to the case, appearing on local public television debating the issue, setting up a three-day conference for their members to present the facts they have uncovered, and the inevitable implosion of the group and the scattering of its members. It’s an incredibly clever film that examines group dynamics, the obsession of conspiracy theories, and how information is distorted. In the ultimate post-postmodern trick, it even questions the integrity of the Nothing so Strange documentary itself.
All the websites linked above create a network of information about these fictional events. This adds depth and reality to the constructed parallel world Flemming creates in which Bill Gates was killed. There is extra footage on the DVD, and more available if you want to use the BitPass system to download the footage for a couple of bucks.
The director’s commentary is hilarious. In total deadpan, Brian Flemming describes the making of the film (including some amusing notes about what he hates about directors’ commentaries), and then patches Debra Meagher in “live” to describe what’s happened with Citizens for Truth in the intervening years. After she finishes, Flemming does the same with David James. James gives his opinion of the film, and how he feels he was portrayed in the documentary. Much is made of the director’s ability to pare down the information (80/90 hours of footage) and edit it to give the spin he wants.
What adds yet another dimension to this already multi-faceted film is that Flemming has made the footage of the film open source. While the current edit of the film is copyrighted, anyone can obtain the original footage and re-cut the film to their liking. Flemming has set up a Creative Commons license to facilitate this. It’s hilarious to listen to Flemming, on the commentary, encouraging the irate James to edit his own version of the events.
This is independent filmmaking at its best: intelligent, funny, and challenging. The viewer is warned of the dangers of trusting authorities without question, while being alerted that the medium by which we get our information is inherently biased. It’s an excellent message delivered with panache and sophistication.