Kickstarter has become a destination for filmmakers looking to find funding, but in the case of the new documentary “The Mystery of Marie Jocelyne,” the crowdsourcing before their February 23rd deadline hasn’t been limited to money.
“Marie affected so many people over the course of her time in the U.S.,” said the film’s co-director Martha Shane. “Already just through putting the Kickstarter out there, we’ve gotten e-mails from people who have stories to tell about her.”
Yet it’s likely very few of them will be positive and regardless of whatever juicy tales they have to tell, the film will still begin with the one of Dan Nuxoll, who has been fine-tuning his with the authorities and at parties ever since he met Marie Castaldo in 2007 when as the program director of the New York-based nonprofit Rooftop Films he was approached by Marie to rent some equipment for her Queens International Film Festival. The festival would come and go, but payment for the rental never did, which is why Nuxoll was surprised when he learned Castaldo was staging the festival once more the following year.
Around this time, he also met Shane, who had been touring the festival circuit with the doc “Bi the Way,” and from there, the two would begin to investigate Castaldo, who had a habit leaving others holding the bag. In what Shane now calls “the craziest thing that had happened to either of us in our lives,” they found the stuff that movies are made of, a globe-spanning adventure of a con artist who went by at least seven different aliases while engineering various scams, often at the expense of people in the independent film community. (A laundry list of Ms. Castaldo’s exploits were detailed in a “This American Life” episode and more recently, a Wall Street Journal piece, which includes the curious production of “Four Deadly Reasons” featuring her ex-con husband Richard and the set-up of a film festival in Narrowsburg that, similar to Queens, bilked filmmakers and vendors out of fees and various expenses with little or nothing to show in return.)
Nuxoll has since recovered his rental fees and led a group of the aggrieved in putting Castaldo behind bars for a time and ultimately deporting her to Europe, but rather than put the experience in his past, he and Shane have spent the past two years untangling a history that goes far beyond what’s already been published.
“It’s definitely been challenging, said Shane, who talks of research trips to Los Angeles, Florida, Vermont and even to the coast of Africa in the offing should their Kickstarter campaign be successful. “It’s just unraveling the sweater and each thread leads somewhere different.”
In fact, had it not been for a surprise twist involving a last-minute jaunt to London this past October, the pair would’ve launched their online campaign near the end of last year. However, Shane and Nuxoll found themselves on the transatlantic flight when their letters to Castaldo were finally answered and she agreed to sit down to talk about her life over four days, which one can see from the Kickstarter video ran the gamut of emotions from anger to pride with plenty of tears in between.
While revealing of Castaldo’s character, the teaser also suggests why the film about her is such an exciting prospect. Decked out in the style of ‘40s detective pulp for their original pitch video, Nuxoll and Shane’s sense of humor and fun is on full display as well as their clever use of animation and reenactments to bring Castaldo’s cons to life.
“There were a lot of serious issues involved in the various allegations against Marie and we wouldn’t make light of those,” said Nuxoll. “But at the same time, it’s really a wildly entertaining story and we wanted to capture that energy of what it felt like and what it still feels like to track down all these different leads. I don’t know we’ll necessarily get quite as noirish as some of the segments in the Kickstarter video, but we definitely are going to play around with the whole idea of detective fiction.”
They certainly will give themselves the time to. Nuxoll and Shane plan to continue filming until the end of this year and expect to be in post-production in 2013, though Shane is quick to note for a story that just keeps growing like kudzu, it’s tough to pinpoint when they’ll be finished. What they can be more definitive about is their appreciation of the community that’s been growing around the film in equal measure, something that they hope will allow their campaign on Kickstarter to transcend a mere fundraising drive.
“With this story, there are so many different elements to tell that we’re also going to update on Facebook and Kickstarter to fill in some of the crazy little details here and there and bring people along,” said Nuxoll.
If nothing else, they've accomplished the unthinkable by making the notion of being taken for a ride by Marie Castaldo sound like a good thing.