Distributed by Distributed by Grasshopper Films, 12 East 32nd St., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016
Produced by Produced by Riel Roch-Decter, Sebastian Pardo, and Dean Fleischer-Camp
Directed by Directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp
DVD, color, 88 min.
High School - General Adult
Japan, Popular Culture, Music Trade, Singers
Date Entered: 06/04/2018
Reviewed by: Reviewed by Andy Horbal, University of Maryland Libraries
Fraud ostensibly documents four-odd months during which a North Carolina family resorts to illegal activities to maintain their consumerist lifestyle. Hounded by creditors, but desirous of the latest iPhone and other goods, they set fire to their house to collect on a homeowners insurance policy, then flee across the border into Canada with their two children.
According to the description on the back of the DVD box, the film is “assembled from over 100 hours of home movies shot by an unknown man of his family over a period of several years and uploaded to YouTube.” It goes on to note that director Dean Fleischer-Camp employed “extraordinary cinematic sleight of hand” in creating it. Most viewers therefore won’t have any question about whether or not the narrative is “real.” Even if someone did somehow find themself watching the movie without the benefit of any of this information, the anachronistic camcorder-style date stamp in the corner of every frame and obvious signs of editing (too many shots, which are too seamlessly integrated to be believable as the work of a single amateur cameraman) should be a tip-off that it can’t be accepted at face value. Additional giveaways include mismatches between when historical events depicted in the film like Hurricane Sandy actually took place (October-November, 2012) and when the date stamps said they did (September 4).
The critique of American society as overly obsessed with material wealth that Fraud offers isn’t very original, so the film’s appeal hinges on the artfulness of the illusion it creates, and the implications of the fact that such a project was even possible, i.e. what does it say about “fake news”? In all of these respects, the work itself is a success, but the DVD release is not. Fleischer-Camp and editor Jonathan Rippon have done a masterful job of creating a coherent and engrossing narrative out of footage shot years apart and, in some cases, by completely different people. You wouldn’t necessarily know that the latter was true, though, without the aid of interviews and reviews (a selection of which is helpfully compiled on the film’s official website). Similarly, without knowing how, for instance, a news report about warrants being issued for the protagonists arrests was created, it’s hard to determine how concerned we should be that photographs and videos of ourselves could be similarly manipulated.
If ever there was a DVD that cried out for extras, this is it: some combination of examples of unedited source material, film festival Q&As, “making of” videos, and commentary tracks would have gone a long way toward creating a more fulfilling cinematic experience, and given the short 52-minute runtime, there’s a reasonable expectation to see other works by the director included as well. In the absence of this kind of context, Grasshopper Film’s DVD release of Fraud is difficult to recommend, despite all the movie’s strengths. This is especially true in light of the fact that it’s currently only available at a standard institutional rate of $375, which feels like paying the price of an album for what amounts to a single or an EP.
- Special Jury Prize for Narrative Innovation, Sarasota Film Festival
- Depth of Field Competition Winner, Docaviv International Documentary Film Festival