Informant, directed and written by Jamie Meltzer, is the story of domineering, take charge activist turned snitch for the F.B.I., Brandon Darby. It’s a solid, character driven nonfiction/narrative that at stays compelling, despite having a lot of ground to cover before getting to the real story at hand.
Filmed in various cities across the United States, Meltzer opens in present day, urging Darby to start his story by looking straight into the camera. The real story starts in 2005 New Orleans, right after Katrina’s devastation where he and a fellow activist attempt to locate a former Black Panther. Finding him alive, they feel motivated to stay and help reconstruct the ravaged city. Once back home in Austin, Texas feeling emotionally and physically exhausted, a university professor approaches Darby with the intent to lure him into the Palestinian movement. Even for the left wing extremist, this raises a red flag and it begins his relationship with the F.B.I. His handler next convinces him to infiltrate the Republican National Convention Welcoming Committee, and the central plot and deception begins. Darby meets two very young and impressionable young social activists eager to wreak political warfare, and they become the main suspects in a high profile investigation which lead to their arrests.
Using sound bites to set the tone, Darby hones in on the focal points of this absorbing drama. His interviews and recreations are definitely cinematic. He’s most interested in Darby as an odd and baffling character, but at the same time he presents the information fairly, casting a wide net so that a complete portrayal of events surrounding Darby is captured.
There’s uniqueness to Melter’s direction and interest in this story. Watching one re-enactment where the main subject is speaking to shady Venezuelan government officials, Melzer pulls the camera back from the dramatization to reveal Darby directing and critiquing both cast and crew how the actual meeting unfolded thus providing the audience a means to judge credibility of the situation. Overall, Melzer’s work shows quality enough to continue in this genre or cross over into fictional narrative.
Brandon Darby is often described as reckless, self-absorbed, egotistical and confrontational. Often he appears to be enjoying himself in the eye of the hurricane yet at the same time somewhat delusional, making him very difficult to pin down to any one type of personality. Darby is the driving force throughout this nonfiction narrative, although unpredictable and even unintelligible, he is the reason for the film. His actions and behaviour allegedly contributed too much to the arrest of the oh-so-young social anarchists and it is up to the viewer to decide if he is just as blameworthy or morally responsible for the outcome.
The tone and feeling of Informant is that of a confessional from an emotionally wounded do-gooder who got caught in his own ego, spending his time seeking attention, and veering off the path into a world of threats and paranoia. Although journalistic in breaking down Darby’s story and the events of the 2008 Republican Convention in Minnesota, this documentary it’s not without its share of surprises. A poorly made and impulsive decision by two overly eager anarchists changes the lives of so many making the emotional ride disturbing and tragic.
Informant takes its time arriving at the meat and potatoes of this complex tale, but it skillfully reveals each segment of Brandon Darby’s life story. It touches on a potential domestic terrorist plot and lays out all sides of a deeply sensitive issue in the United States. It never really finds an actual conclusion, but it’s certainly effective in questioning Darby’s sincerity.
Director Jamie Meltzer will be conducting Q&As via Skype following the Friday and Saturday evening screenings of Informant at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.