Over the next few weeks, our writer in Melbourne, Sean W. Fallon, will be covering the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) and reviewing some of his favourite movies from the festival.
Overview: The fascinating life and tragic death of Libertarian filmmaker, David Crowley. A&E Indie Films; 2017; 90 minutes.
Three Documentaries: Executive produced by Werner Herzog and directed by Erik Nelson, A Gray State is a mix of documentary sub-genres. It is a character study and the life story of central figure, David Crowley. It is a movie about making movies as we watch Crowley’s efforts to get his magnum opus about government control run wild created. And it is a true crime documentary as we find ourselves trying to unravel the facts around his death.
David Crowley’s movie, “A Gray State,” is a dystopian movie about government tyranny and how we’re only seconds away from living in a police state. It’s very possible you’ve seen at least the concept trailer for it which as of writing has 2.6 million views. While not the kind of movie I’m usually into, the trailer shows a lot of promise from Crowley, and A Gray State shows that behind that promise is a lot of passion, charisma, and, unfortunately, darkness.
Home Movies: A Gray State is told via interviews with friends and family of Crowley and also footage from Crowley’s extensive home video collection. Crowley is a documentarian’s dream, as he seemingly never put down the camera and thus every time an interviewee makes a comment about Crowley’s demeanour or actions, Nelson can play a piece of footage that confirms it. Crowley had big dreams for his little indie picture, so during the filming process he again documented everything, probably for the DVD extras. Erik Nelson is able to pull from that too to show how the man made movies.
We also get an insight into the people who would want to see a movie like “A Gray State” and also the kind of people who, once Crowley and his family turned up dead, would make it a hobby to solve the murder. Spoiler: it’s a lot of white dudes and there’s more than one appearance of walking Hindenburg disaster, Alex Jones. We see interviews with “A Gray State” fans and also ‘citizen investigators’ who have taken to YouTube to release videos demanding to know the truth while endlessly speculating and conspiracy theorising about Crowley’s alleged murder-suicide of himself, his wife, and his infant daughter.
Like most true crime documentaries, by the end of the movie we are given enough to make our own decisions about what happened to the Crowley family, and we can take that away and research more or let that be it. It’s clear from this movie, and the amount of Justice for David Crowley Facebook pages I found, that for some this isn’t the case and they’ll solve his death no matter what, even if their only tools are a webcam and access to a conspiracy theory message board.
Overall: A fascinating movie about paranoia, drive, movie-making, and conspiracy theorists, A Gray State even manages to get some horror movie stuff in before the end. The movie doesn’t offer easy answers, nor does it seem to take sides in terms of the politics driving Crowley’s movie making. It is a great piece of film-making about film-making and an incredible true crime documentary at the same time.
Featured Image: Tribeca Film Festival