Austin Film Fest ’12: Sparks Fly At Premiere of Brandon Darby Doc “Informant”

When victims of an activist-turned-FBI informant take the mic at the hometown premiere of the compelling new documentary he's a star of, a completely different version of an already...
A scene from Jamie Meltzer's documentary Informant about Brandon Darby

“Let me say that we had nothing to do with making the film except that we were interviewed for it,” said Austin-based activist Scott Crow in one of the more unusual introductions to ever begin a Q & A session at a film festival.

Proudly identifying himself as an anarchist, but quickly adding that “the world I actually want to live in is an egalitarian world,” Crow ushered a touch of chaos into the typically staid practice of a post-screening chat when he took center stage at the Austin Film Festival’s premiere screening of “Informant,” which had won the festival’s prize for Best Documentary earlier in the day. Crow was accompanied by David McKay, a fellow Austinite who couldn’t attend the premiere of the last film that featured him as a subject – the 2011 doc “Better This World” – because he was incarcerated at the time.

Besides McKay’s presence, what made the evening so incredible was that after a film in which Crow and McKay can be seen being wronged by Brandon Darby, an anti-establishment radical who was involved in activist efforts to restore the Lower Ninth Ward following Hurricane Katrina before becoming an informant who reported back to the FBI on activist activities, each had the opportunity to give their own version of the story without either Darby or the film’s director Jamie Meltzer onhand to field questions.

If they’re to be believed, the portrait of Darby painted by Crow and McKay was far different than the one presented in the film. Crow insisted Meltzer “did a good job for what he was doing,” creating a well-crafted, evenhanded look at Darby by inviting him to sit and tell his own story in which he became disenchanted with the politics of his activist efforts and found his way to being a hero for blowing the whistle on a trio of young protesters, including McKay, at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul who were discovered with a crate of Molotov cocktails – makeshift bombs he appears to have had a hand in influencing being made – who has since gone on to become a successful speaker on the Tea Party circuit.

However, McKay and Crow would argue that Darby was a misogynist always out to prove his machismo who attempted to coax both of them and other activists towards violence long before he started participating with the FBI, growing frustrated with his inability to lead in a community of activists where equality was prized, and ultimately is a pawn in a much larger plot in the U.S. to profit off an ever-growing police state.

“This is a pattern by the U.S. government on activist and Muslim communities,” Crow said. “There’s been 500 cases since 2001, so they’re creating terrorism subjects in this country so they can justify this war on terror. It’s all about building military capacity for the police. Corporations are making money on it. It just happens that this jerk [Darby] will talk about it a lot.”

Sunday evening gave victims of Darby’s testimony a chance to respond, both onstage and from the crowd. McKay, who spent three years in prison after Darby gave him up to the FBI, told the audience: “I feel immense feelings for Brandon, one of them is pity because experiencing those exact experiences with him, as far as I can know as truth and seeing where he has progressed with his own life, I don’t think his story is over in playing itself out, but I know it cannot be easy being Brandon Darby. And I think a lot of people who know him a lot better than I do, do have a little bit of remorse and pity for him.”

“No pity” was shouted from the right corner of the auditorium where some of Darby’s fellow activists from Common Ground, the collective that gave aid to Hurricane Katrina victims, were assembled. Most vocal was Lisa Fithian, another fiery Austin-based activist who stood up to seize the final word on the evening.

“Brandon Darby has been a problem in this community for many years, back to 2002 and many of us raised issues about Brandon for years,” said Fithian. “But did people listen to the women that raised issues about Brandon Darby? No. Because everybody’s always so fascinated by him. He’s so interesting, isn’t he? Fuck that shit. He’s fucking destructive, he’s hurt people, he’s sent people to jail…If we don’t learn the lessons about how we let bullies and misogynists into our community and continue to be disruptive because we think they’re interesting or we don’t want to stand up to them, we get kids in federal prison.”

Well, it was almost the final word. While Crow seemed pleased that Darby’s story was getting this kind of platform since he believes it’s films like this that “bring some of these stories to the surface,” he couldn’t help but slip in at the end, “He would love it that we’re sitting here talking about him.”

“Informant” plays at the Austin Film Festival once more on October 24th at 3 p.m. at the Hideout Theater. It will next play at the Starz Denver Film Festival on November 9th and 10th at the Pavillions Theater and DOCNYC at the IFC Center in New York on November 11th and 13th .

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