Marshall Curry’s compelling portrait of a sheltered young American turned Libyan freedom fighter had its world premiere at Tribeca, where it won the Best Documentary Award. Others fests include Hot Docs, Maryland, AFI Docs, IFF Boston, Nashville, and the upcoming Traverse City, New Zealand, and Melbourne fests.
Inspired by the films of obscure Australian adventurer Alby Mangels, an early fascination with LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE, and eager to escape his upbringing as a coddled only-child, Baltimore-based OCD-sufferer Matthew VanDyke set out to film himself on an international motorcycle adventure through northern Africa and the Middle East. During his self-described “crash course in manhood,” VanDyke temporarily adopts the alias “Max Hunter” to reflect the image of masculinity he wants to project, and films American soldiers in Iraq who themselves are eager to be filmed looking tough, even staging the kicking in of a door for his camera. Though he returns home to reunite with his girlfriend and mother after the conclusion of his adventure, the outbreak of the Arab Spring lures him back, having previously befriended Nuri, a Libyan hippie turned revolutionary. Still filming even as he takes up arms with the ragtag militants, VanDyke gets caught in an ambush by Gaddafi forces and imprisoned for nearly six months, but still decides to remain even after his escape to fight – though he finds himself more and more conflicted in his dual role of documentarian and freedom fighter. Curry, approached by VanDyke with his footage, deftly interweaves the latter with an extended interview with the adventurer as he watches and reflects on his experiences with the benefit of hindsight. In the process both filmmakers tease out a subtle exploration – if not cultural critique – of the intersection of self-image, performance, and documentation.