Shades of Truth: When Documentary & Fiction Collide
by Sam Iannuzzi
Fans of documentaries and narratives have three very unique offerings among the many films screening during the 10th Annual Dallas International Film Festival. Matt Johnson wrote, directed and stars in OPERATION AVALANCHE, an American/Canadian cold war era spy drama about undercover agents posing as documentary filmmakers who end up discovering a much bigger cover-up. BOOGER RED from director Berndt Mader is based on a true story of a suspected child sex ring in small town Texas full of controversy. It is mostly a documentary based on interviews with the real people involved in the case, however, there are a few actors, including Onur Tukel as a journalist trying to find the truth. The third is HOTEL DALLAS, a mock documentary directed by Livia Ungur and Sherng-Lee Huang that takes the viewer on a journey back in time to examine the affect the American television show Dallas had on communist Romania and the economic revolution in the 1980s.
OPERATION AVALANCHE, the mostly Canadian production shot in Toronto, had it’s World Premier earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. In Cold War era 1967, two CIA agents pose as documentary filmmakers to uncover a suspected Russian mole at NASA. Once there, they begin poking into the Apollo space program by wiretapping phones and breaking into offices. Instead of a mole, the pair is shocked to find what they believe to be evidence that the moon landing was staged — which also happens to be an actual unproven theory that surfaced for a brief time in the 1970s. Pursuing the new angle forces the agents to adjust the mission and puts them in the midst of a massive governmental cover-up. Ironically, the actual filmmakers posed as film students to gain access to NASA and shoot scenes at the space center.
Writer/director Brent Mader is an Emmy Award-winner and University of Texas alum whose film 5 TIME CHAMPION won the Texas Filmmaker Award at the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival. In BOOGER RED — which is actually a nickname for one of the accused sex offenders in a real life crime drama in Mineola, Texas — Mader uses just a couple actors mixed in with interviews of the actual people involved in the case. Onur Tukel plays a journalist who heads to Mineola to attempt to get to the real truth when several patrons of a swingers club in the bible belt town of just over 5,000 are accused of using the club to run a child pornography operation. As a press release for the movie accurately describes, “Booger Red is a hybrid documentary/narrative/drama.” Another of the few real actors in the film is Alex Karpovsky, who you may recognize as the coffee shop owner Ray Ploshansky in the HBO series Girls.
Dallas, the most popular television show of the 1980s, was a tale of the Ewings; a made for TV family that featured people with a lot of money, greed, all things Texas, and plenty of pretty girls and rugged cowboys with a whole lot of sizzle. It was shown around the world in 57 countries, one of which was communist Romania. None other than Larry Hagman, who plays evil brother J.R. Ewing, is seen on a BBC talk show clip explaining that a Romanian man once told him that they had three TV shows when he was growing up, two featuring political speeches and one showing episodes of Dallas. The government thought by showing the program it would validate the evil that ensues when you have too much power and a lot of money in a free capitalist society like the United States.
HOTEL DALLAS includes some black and white scenes, the feel of footage shot using drones, a brief stop at Southfork, the real-life ranch in Parker, Texas that served as the fictional home of the Ewings, clips from John Wayne movies and the voice of Patrick Duffy – who played J.R.’s brother of much better character. Duffy left the show when his character was killed off. Some 60 episodes later, the producers brought him back and decided to explain his absence by having his wife wake up realizing his death and everything that happened after were all part of a pretty eventful and prolonged dream. Bobby’s death and “dream” rebirth are big parts of the fictional journey down memory lane in HOTEL DALLAS.
DALLAS STAR AWARDOscar-nominated cinematographer Ed Lachman’s selected credits as a cinematographer include the Emmy nominated HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce and films including DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, and the Academy Award nominated film, CAROL.
DALLAS MAVERICK AWARDOur inaugural honoree, director, editor and producer Monte Hellman, has a career that spans six decades. He has exemplified cutting-edge filmmaking across multiple genres, working with budgets, from high-to-low, and with casts featuring stars to complete unknowns.