David Bond & Melinda McDougall
Review by Victoria Large
Posted on 07 May 2010
Source 35mm print
Categories The 2010 Independent Film Festival Boston
Most anyone who is on this website – or any website – or who is using their cell phone, or going into stores, offices, and businesses guarded by security cameras, is leaving behind a trail information everyday. That’s the disconcerting thought that drives Erasing David, a documentary in which UK filmmaker David Bond examines the increasing lack of privacy in Britain and around the globe by attempting to go off the grid for thirty days. It’s the sort of film that could inspire audiences to think more carefully about the way that they share information. It’s also the sort of film that could make audiences really, really paranoid.
Beginning by noting that the United Kingdom is one of the globe’s biggest “surveillance states” behind only China and Russia, Bond delves into some of the frightening possibilities of living in such a country. He examines governmental as well as corporate surveillance, and exposes the intrusive and potentially disastrous consequences of both. Some of what he finds is simply cause for bemusement: a London police record indicates that he “looked angry” while driving in November 2006, for example. Other discoveries are more disturbing. At one point in the film, Bond interviews victims of corrupted databases: people who have had their lives disrupted and livelihoods threatened by false information regarding their criminal records. In another instance, Bond considers the similarities between current British policies meant “to serve (the public) better” and the methods employed by the Stasi in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yet the more mundane details – like the sheath of information that Amazon UK has on Bond – may be the bits that stick with audience most, possibly even shaping how viewers choose to engage with technology in the future.
The investigative reporting and expert interviews are interwoven with Bond’s attempt to disappear for 30 days, and the film’s disparate elements occasionally seem to be warring for our attention. Bond plays cat-and-mouse with a private detective firm called Cerberus, growing increasingly paranoid out on the run. (But not paranoid enough, it would seem: of course an elite private detective team is going to check Bond’s parents’ houses for their quarry!) Though Bond’s adventures are entertaining, and he makes for a funny and self-deprecating guide throughout, his contrived “disappearing” adventures sometimes distract from his thematic concerns rather than reinforcing them. And though one of the experts that Bond speaks with suggests that those concerned with privacy issues should make choices that “maximize the advantages and minimize the downside,” the film doesn’t offer much insight into how one would do either of those things.
Nevertheless, Erasing David is a good watch, with some dryly funny scenes (such as Bond’s encounters with an American privacy expert whose advice makes it seem unsafe to do just about anything). It’s may not be the last word on its loaded topic, but it is a good conversation starter, and any film that can put Pulp’s “I Spy” to such wry and appropriate use is probably on to something.
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