TORONTO, ONTARIO – Sept. 20, 2016 – Gringo: The dangerous life of John McAfee premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, September 11, 2016. The film was directed by Nanette Burstein and produced by Jeff Wise in association with Showtime. At the premiere, Nanette stated that she found the news stories of the early 2000’s surrounding John McAfee so interesting, she decided to pursue his ‘story’ … or maybe it was a witch hunt.
Let’s just quickly discuss the purpose of a documentary. Documentary film is intended to instruct, educate or produce a historical record of a nonfictional matter. Documentaries are supposed to produce the reality of their subject and present it with evidence, keyword, in a compelling way. Interestingly, documentary film has made a comeback, becoming increasingly popular with audiences, but especially with production companies because of the high return on investment. Documentaries are very cheap to produce and highly profitable to distribute — cue Showtime.
The film Gringo is more like a fictional narrative produced in a documentary style. I would go as far as to say it was a mockumentary if the director, Nanette Burstein and here associate, journalist and producer, Jeff Wise, weren’t so hell bent on slandering the character of John MacAfee to uplift Nanette’s career as an aspiring filmmaker. In fact, she even says so.
The film twists the very nature of documentary and creates a very bias narrative riddled with subjectivities and rhetoric the backbone of which is based on highly questionable “witness” accounts. To paraphrase, the film starts with the major question, ‘Is John McAfee very deceptive? Or is he a manipulator?” Aside from the fact that these two things go hand in hand, the film’s real question is, “Is John McAfee bad? Or is he bad?”
Right away audiences are given no alternative but manipulated into one perception, a biased view shared by Nanette and Jeff – especially if you look at Jeff Wise’s long history of harassing McAfee through so called, journalism.
Of course, there are some facts, but the majority of the film is told through interviews with various people from Belize who claimed to be associated with John McAfee. These individuals live in poverty, in a nation rich with the sunshine and Piña Coladas.
Move inner city, what is Belize really like? As stated in the film itself, slums, crime, prostitution, and drugs. The film goes further to suggest police services in Belize are so far behind they haven’t gotten past fingerprints into more advanced forensic investigation – and yet the film tries to paint John MacAfee’s donations to police as a bribe. “Why didn’t he build a library”?
When you are that poor, crime pays. Making direct, material, donations via equipment that serves the public safety interests through police services, is just as well intentioned. Depending on the circumstance of the locale, perhaps even more pertinent. According to the film itself, there was no pocket lining monetary donations to police services in Belize.
So why do the witnesses lack credibility? Well for starters, you can’t claim a man surrounds himself with hookers and criminals and then interview those individuals and present them as credible witnesses, much less anecdotal evidence. It can be suggested that the interviewees were paid, but even if they weren’t, there is a multitude of reasons they would tell Nanette what she wants to hear.
1. The individuals felt abandoned by John McAfee and his wealth after he left Belize. So when an American comes to talk to them, wouldn’t they feel important again and get caught up in the sensationalism of ‘showbiz’?
2. The girls all wanted to be his number one, “I was the best” claimed one, “He always treated me the best” claimed another… but then another, “He said, you are all the same” – so we have a case for resentment, especially after they have been left behind, and the lavish lifestyle pulled out from under them.
3. One of the men interviewed admits on camera that he organized the beating of an individual that resulted in death, what happened to him? Why is he on camera and not in jail. Is evidence being withheld from Belizean officials?
4. Several of the ‘witnesses’ featured in this ‘documentary’ retracted their statements ahead of the premiere in a YouTube video. During the premiere question and answer period, Nanette tried to address this by suggesting, ‘well these are the people in Belize and John paid them to retract their statements’ – That makes the interviewees less credible and is clear evidence that they will say what you want to hear, especially if they are incentivized.
The debate outside of the film becomes, “he said, she said” and the critique is, whether this was a documentary or a fictional narrative, an adoption?
Even as I type this, sworn statements from individuals in the film have come out, declaring that their ‘testimony’ was false, the whole film has become a complete farce and insult to the intelligence of its viewer, in fact, the TIFF community.
Now that we’ve discussed ad nauseam how the film Gringo completely bastardizes the purpose documentary let’s discuss aesthetics.
First off, credit where credit is due. The film editing and cinematography are great and when you layer in the sound and music for effect, well it’s fantastic, it speaks to the sensationalism of the piece. However, I take issue with a ‘documentary’ that relies heavily on anecdotal evidence and recreation. There were no hard facts. Recreation is when you film video b-roll instead of sourcing original imagery to try and recreate an event as told by a subject to generate emotion from the audience.
Recreation is a tactic used to manipulate audiences and creates fictional empathy for a character or story. In this case, the film protagonist is Nanette Burstein. The purpose of recreation is exactly how Nanette tries to prove herself right, her belief that McAfee is a nut case trying to change his image, once again. There is no real evidence, video or otherwise, depicting John MacAfee’s time or antics while in Belize to support the story that Nanette is trying to address, just anecdotes of her cruel spotlight.
Just one more point, I don’t want a TIFF curator to claim I have been rambling on. As far as storytelling and filmmaking go, there were several instances where interview segments would lead into exactly nothing and did not advance the story. Sections of the film were put together in an almost haphazard way and were merely included because of the individual bias of the film’s creators and push to attack John McAfee’s character. Rule number one of storytelling, if it’s not important, don’t include it, and Nanette, you failed rule number one.
So, how do you start a career by Assassinating someone else’s?
1. Find an infamous, eccentric individual. Study the media coverage.
2. Predetermine a story.
3. Find like-minded industry player.
4. Interview criminals and hookers, don’t forget to pay them or play them into telling your narrative.
5. Be sure to include scat fetish stories.
6. If not enough evidence of murder, accuse subject of rape.
7. Sell to dying broadcaster or production company.
8. Premiere at TIFF, call the film a documentary.
I think I nailed it.
“For the last 15 years, I have been making documentaries on complex and controversial celebrities… fascinated with how being famous puts you under a cruel spotlight but it can also allow for extraordinary privileges, like the ability to get away with things.”
– Nanette Burstein
Did you just start your documentary with: “I’m nosy, and I like to hold that cruel spotlight?” Let’s take it a step further, during your Q/A period you suggest that the FBI is still investigating the murder of Gregory Faull and insinuate that John McAfee is still a suspect. Do you have evidence of this or is it that cruel spotlight again? Maybe try your tack at being a paparazzi.
Did I miss anything Nanette? Jeff do you have something to add?
Maybe it’s because I am Canadian, or maybe it’s because I am a lifetime student of film and television production, but the ways in which this film uses aesthetics and ‘witness accounts’ to manipulate audiences through sensationalism left me feeling disgusted by a narrative guised as a documentary. It is an insult to the craft. No self-respecting filmmaker would claim this to be a documentary. Maybe this is why I’ve quit the film industry.
Now some readers may say, “Hey, this article seems poignant and maybe bias…” See how easy it is. I could slap a bunch of clips together and make McAfee look like a god. It is that easy.
But please, make no mistake, as I write this article, I don’t care about John McAfee or any of the ‘scat revelations’ presented in the film Gringo. What I do care about is someone willing to slander and libel an individual to try and make their career: The Nanette Burstein story.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but does that give you the right to slander, libel and character assassinate someone? So, Nanette, I ask: what happened in Belize?
September 12, 2016
P.S. I didn’t want to get into it, but Jeff, Nanette, Showtime, you should look into securities fraud before you start tweeting and presenting in the film, unfounded information about John McAfee in relation to his new, publicly traded company.
Evidence that Showtime Gringo utilized paid scripted interviews:
Video Link: http://www.youtube.com/embed/05hUP1kS5JA
About the author
The author felt it was necessary to remain anonymous while presenting their perspective of the film, Gringo: The dangerous life of John McAfee. The author intends to enlighten viewers regarding some of the gross misconduct and abuse of medium to manipulate audience but to avoid hypocrisy by self-publishing this article under their name.