This was my first visit to Secret Screenings – a sister strand to Secret Cinema that aims to show as yet unseen films for one night only with the Secret Cinema touch only on a smaller scale. This is, in fact, only the second of such events, the first having been Searching For Sugarman complete with a performance by Rodriguez himself. My first contact with this event was a rather ominous email taking the form of a court summons and asking me to confirm my attendance at the above day time (i.e buy a ticket).
Dutifully doing so I began to wonder what the film might be. Secret Screenings kept up the crime & punishment theme, posting lots prison related links and videos like Johnny Cash at San Quentin etc so I started to think about prison films. However, things started to skew a little and there seemed to be more about truth vs fiction and identification so I started to think about recent films along those lines.
There was only one thing it could be – I was convinced Secret Screenings were going to show us Bart Layton’s The Imposter. The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Conway Court Hall was the Spanish telephone box, being a bit dim though I didn’t really connect it with the film until later. There wasn’t a queue as such when I arrived but I could immediately see the police presence and after a while one of the officers asked us to line up behind the desk. While we were lined up other officers walked up and down the line checking tickets etc and keeping order. There were also more Secret Screenings signs around here including the lyrics to a song.
While I was near the front of the queue a boy, dressed in suspiciously thick clothing for the hot day, came and sat inside the phone box and I immediately knew my guess had been correct as I recognised it from the promotional material for the film. On finally getting inside we had to hand over our questionnaires to the policeman who filed them according to whether we’d selected truth or fiction. The girl in front of me refused to choose and after some arguing he gave in and created a separate pile. The questionnaires didn’t appear to have any further use and nothing more was made of them on the evening.
The ‘court house’ wasn’t open yet so I wandered around and spotted several ‘Missing’ adverts on the walls – more evidence. When the court did eventually open, we had to pass through a metal detector (which wasn’t switched on or connected to anything but was watched over by a policeman who made sure we went one by one). Once inside we were directed to one side for truth and another for fiction. I sat down on the truth side but this didn’t really make any difference in the end and if you came later you obviously just had to sit wherever there was space.
The film was then introduced by someone dressed as a British style barrister complete with wig who warned us we were to sit in judgement on a very complicated case but not to make up our minds until we’d heard the cross-examination of witnesses after the film had finished.
As you might expect if you’ve read anything at all about the film it is an extraordinarily complicated and distressing case. I came to sympathise with everyone and no-one by turns but even though I was aware of being manipulated I did come to sympathise more with the protagonist than anyone else. After all I’m assuming someone checked the injuries he claimed to have sustained as part his ‘story’ and that therefore he must have received these injuries at some point himself. One of the family members does describe him as walking with a limp from the beginning but I suppose he could have been putting it on all along.
After the film finished we were treated to a Q&A with the director and ‘star’ of the film private investigator Charlie Parker which took the form of a cross-examination by the barrister from the introduction. A lot of questions were asked about the level of scripting in the film and use of actors (none, bar brief reconstruction scenes) and whether anyone had been payed to appear in the film (expenses only). Apparently Frederic Bourdin now disowns the film because he thinks it makes him look bad and harangues the director about it on twitter. Charlie Parker talked how he came to be involved in the case – a current affairs program brought him on board to do some investigative work on a piece they were running about the Barclay family. By chance Parker was standing right next to a picture of the boy who disappeared whilst looking at Bourdin and could see what no-one else could see – it wasn’t him (not least because the shape of his ears was all wrong). Parker then became determined to expose Bourdin as an imposter believing him to be some kind of spy (!). Later Parker formulated his own opinion about what must have happened to the real Nicholas Barclay and is continuing to investigate the case although it has been closed by the police department and FBI.
I would urge everyone to see this fascinating documentary for themselves and make up their own mind. It is obviously very upsetting in terms of its subject matter, the boy who went missing at thirteen is of course still still unaccounted for. It’s a very interesting look at deception and why someone was able to get away with something so absurd in this particular case. There are no easy answers and the film certainly raises lots of questions about human nature and the way that it is often exploited.