Brandon Darby’s actions are explored in ‘The Informant’
Starting this weekend at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema is the documentary that strives to delve behind the controversy and motivations of one of the most infamous personalities involved in the activist movement over the last decade. Informant takes a spellbinding look at Brandon Darby, a radical activist turned FBI informant who has been both vilified and deified, but never fully understood.
Starring Brandon Darby
Directed by Jamie Meltzer
In 2005, Brandon Darby became an overnight activist hero when he traveled to Katrina-devastated New Orleans and braved toxic floodwaters to rescue a friend stranded in the Ninth Ward. Soon after, he became a founding member of Common Ground, a hugely successful grassroots relief organization. After two young activists were arrested at the 2008 Republican National Convention, Darby shocked close friends and activists nationwide by revealing he’d been instrumental in the indictment as an FBI informant. As the only film with access to Brandon Darby since his public confession, Informant presents his compelling journey using direct address interviews and re-enactments featuring Darby. Darby’s story is often contradicted by commentary from acquaintances and expert commentators on various points along the political spectrum. The film invites viewers to form their own opinions about Darby’s character and actions, as well as the larger political context he operates within.
Brandon Darby is a fascinating subject for a documentary and as such Informant becomes an engaging character piece on the man himself. The film is not content to leave the story as a one-sided affair though as many of the other people involved in the story, some of whom would rather see Brandon dead now, all get chances to chime in on their recollections and contradict the points Brandon is making. Brandon has strong supporters and multitudes of enemies as the result of his actions. The story of how Brandon got to where he did plays out with intrigue and mystery as the audience, and perhaps even Brandon himself, is not quite sure what exactly happened and which parts of Brandon’s stories are real or fiction. Some of Brandon’s opposition offer compelling cases, though some of their observations are also tainted as they come off as trying to save face themselves, while documents and re-enactment play out Brandon’s side of the story, some of which is collaborated by the FBI as true. The nature of the arrests Brandon’s undercover work leads to also scream of tampering and entrapment, though the courts did not see it that way.
Holed up in his house, spewing rhetoric and cleaning his guns, while addressing the camera directly and earnestly, Brandon comes off as a low rent Travis Bickle, though his words of defiance are tempered by his clear paranoia and fear for his life. The death threats do not stop and the momentum against Brandon is bitter and cold as the activist movement, as pointed out by Brandon, is bred out of fighting back and exacting revenge on those they see has having wronged them. The film’s re-enactments are spotty at best, mainly because you have Darby playing himself in all of them and he’s not a very convincing actor in them, though some may argue that the rest of the film is him performing admirable for the camera. The most impactful sequence may be when Brandon’s house alarm is triggered in the middle of the night and he inspects the surroundings, shotgun in hand.
Running a scant 77 minutes the film is a little lean on the backstory and history between Brandon and some of his accusers, but the film does make the wise choice to not dilute the affair and keep its lens firmly on Brandon himself. Whether he is a hero or a villain will always be debated but one thing is for sure, Brandon Darby is definitely a charismatic person who will never have a problem finding a faction of people that will follow his lead.
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