There are a variety of tools available to documentary filmmakers: Errol Morris used recreated events in The Thin Blue Line and Michael Moore is famous for “gotcha” style stunts. The documentary Erasing David mines various documentary styles, but they can’t keep it afloat.
Directed and starring David Bond, the film follows David as he tries to evade private investigators (PIs) whom he has hired to track him down with his name as their only lead: the PIs have thirty days to find him. David films himself during this period, verbalizing his concerns about being tracked when he uses his Blackberry or the internet. We also follow the PIs as they obtain information on David through various methods: stealing garbage (twice), fraudulent phone calls, and obtaining a birth certificate (though it’s never explained how).
Erasing David takes place in the U.K. where, according to the film, millions of CCTV cameras make for the third-most surveillance-heavy state (coming in behind China and Russia). The idea of going off the grid is a pertinent one. However, the film does not effectively deal with the deeper ramifications of electronic data.
There are multiple privacy experts that show up in the film, but they have little to say beyond “You’re at risk.” We are never shown exactly how private information could be abused, other than showcasing two individuals who were wrongfully accused of crimes.
Further, in the film’s conclusion David reflects on the amount of information that’s available to the public about his life. The film then tries to link this commentary to David’s capture by the PIs after 18 days, implying that he was found via a vast web of information not kept private.
But that’s not what happened.
The only reason David is caught was because he gets sloppy and decides to visit his wife. We’re not even sure how the PIs obtain the information that leads them to the couple’s meeting location (a hospital) other than one of the PIs pretended to be David over the phone. That has nothing to do with electronic data or biometric scans–that’s just old-fashioned fraud.
Further, having a camera crew follow the PI’s as they try to find David undermines the paranoia and fear David exhibits as the days wear on. When he talks to himself/the camera while out in the woods with the night vision on, we’re not afraid with him that the PIs are outside because we know where they are. So because we know more than our main character, his fear and ramblings become comedic fodder, not dramatic gold.
These separate points of view also stymie any flow to the film, as we’re pushed and pulled from the present (“DAY TWO, HOURS ON THE RUN: 28”) to the past (“FOUR WEEKS EARLIER”) so often that we don’t really care when and where we are – we just want to know why.
Some of the info we learn is interesting: an expert states that even though the U.K. has millions of cameras watching its citizens, these have no proven effect on crime. Also, one of the best moments of the film is when David and his wife are talking about whether or not they’ll allow their child’s biometrics to be recorded. David doesn’t want to do it because he’s worried his daughter could be persecuted based on data filed away somewhere (like the McCarthy trials, in which signatures from old Communist meetings were resurrected). His wife, on the other hand, basically says if it becomes a problem, they’ll deal with it then. Yeah, that worked really well for the ____________ (fill the blank with your minority of choice).
Though the documentary has an interesting subject, there are too many elements working against the film: several pieces feel staged (especially the segments with the PIs), the editing doesn’t keep the film focused, and the constant barrage of music fails to connect the audience to the film.
Though Michael Moore can be an asshole, he can keep you watching. Erasing David, unfortunately, can’t bring home the sense of fear we should all have as we march into this brave new world.
*thanks to The Student for making this review possible. You can read more film reviews at their website: http://www.studentnewspaper.org/film
I agree with the sentiments in your review. I was just watching this and stopped it midway through because it seemed like the subject of the hunt was acting in ways that completely undermined the premise of the “documentary,” such as conducting a video interview he knew was going to be posted to a blog, and visiting a website that had been created by the investigators specifically for the purpose of tricking him into being found. It just seemed like the people making this film decided that since they only had a month to make the film, they needed to make it easy for the detectives to keep on David’s trail, so we wouldn’t get bored watching them going in the complete wrong direction. A lot of poor authorial decisions seemed to add up to make this a waste.