Erasing David

Wall Street Journal

Thanks to the Wall Street Journal for this great review on their blog.

In ‘Erasing David,’ a Filmmaker Vanishes and Challenges Investigators To Find Him

By Michelle Kung

David Bond, flanked by two private investigators

The first week of Austin’s South by Southwest festival focuses on film and interactive trends and events, so it seems only fitting that “Erasing David,” a documentary about online privacy, premiered here. The film, which debuted on iTunes and AmazonVOD the same day it opened at SXSW, centers on British filmmaker David Bond, who challenges two private investigators to find him — using only publicly available data — as he attempts to disappear for a month. “I thought it would be a lot more exciting and fun,” said Bond. “But it turned out to be quite a bit more freaky and paranoia-inducing than I expected.”

Bond first got the idea for the film in 2007, when he received a letter from the U.K. government saying they had lost his four-month-old daughter’s child benefit details, including her date of birth, address and bank account information. Concerned — and curious — about the state of privacy, civil rights and the database state in the U.K., he decided to make a documentary, though he wanted to structure it in a way similar to fictional thrillers like “The Conversation,” to make it compelling. Bond put together a team of filmmakers he trusted to shoot the investigators at work while he “ran.” He packed his bags in January of 2009, and found himself in the “really weird” position of having no creative control for a large chunk of his film.

The Wall Street Journal: In the film, you state that the U.K. is among the top-three monitored countries in the world.

It scores really badly according to the academics. For example, we have this thing that’s called the ring of steel around the financial center in London since the IRA bombings in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I feel like we have moved in the UK from being a beacon of liberties — being the birth place of democracy and the Magna Carta and all that –  to being like an example of how not to do it.

Your wife is pregnant in the film. Was it hard to convince her to go along with this?

It looks awful in the film, I know. But we planned the disappearance and there were lots of things in place before we discovered she was pregnant. It was a tough discussion but it was one where she kind of knew what we lined up to make the film happen. So she was very understanding. And as you saw, it wasn’t a bed of roses for her by any means. I’m still kind of on my knees groveling as we speak.

You’re releasing the film on VOD in conjunction with your premiere here at SXSW. Was that a purposeful move?

That was part of the attraction for us, absolutely, because we know how hard it is to take a documentary into the U.S. market, let alone on that has the added complication of being a British documentary with an unusual genre structure. We really feel like there is an audience out there in the US for the topic, and being able to access that interest online is an exciting model for us.

Given the subject matter of privacy, how much are you using social media to publicize the film?

We use it up to a point. We have to be very, very careful with our disclaimers around it. We never use people’s e-mails or anything else. We encourage people to set up not fake but spam e-mail addresses in order to receive information from us. I think the answer is we are really excited by it and we really use it.  But we are also very keenly aware of the privacy issues involved.

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