Jamie Metzler tries to tackle one very important question in his new documentary Informant: Who is Brandon Darby? Some say he is an American hero, others call him a paranoid egomaniac, but mostly he’s known as an anti-authority FBI informant. So how exactly does a left-wing extremist turn against everything he knows to join the FBI as an informant on fellow activists? Well, to put it simply: it’s complicated.

The film itself is beautifully shot, highly stylized with self aware reenactments and talking head interviews. Metzler manages to turn a sit down explanation of events into a dramatized series of action shots complete with YouTube clips and home video. So here’s the story: Brandon Darby was a hard core, anti-authority, left-wing activist. We meet him during Hurricane Katrina where he rushes across state lines to save his friend King from the storm. He’s egotistical and he’s a hard ass but ultimately he is a leader to many fellow activists and local residents. While Scott Crow and others set up free clinics and  provide aid to Katrina victims, Darby is on a rampage to Venezuela, looking for aid but ultimately hoping to embarrass the United States. However, as time goes on, Darby begins to loose faith in himself, he is undoubtedly traumatized and suffering from PTSD after the horrors he witnessed in Katrina and eventually he goes off the radar.

This is when the FBI steps in and asks Darby to attend a meeting that some young activist are holding. Darby infiltrates the gang, discovers that they are planning to use Molotov cocktails, wears a wire and brings the young terrorists down. Sounds simple, right? Well, in Brandon Darby’s mind, it is that black and white. However, in the eyes of Michael May and David Hanners, the supposed terrorists who served two and four years in prison, it just ain’t that simple. While being interviewed, Darby describes that first meeting he attended as frightening, extreme and as having included an instructional guide on how to create and throw firebombs. However, when we are shown that said video, we discover an extreme parody with the Molotov cocktail being thrown…and landing in a BBQ. This is where we are introduced to the other side of the argument. The men that were informed on.

Michael and David are not innocent. They did take part in protests that included destroying property, they did make Molotov cocktails and David Hanners did lie in court. They were not kids, not even teens, they were young men who were perfectly capable of making sound decisions. However, as i’ve mentioned before, it’s complicated. While Darby never actually entrapped the young men, he definitely didn’t help the situation, he encouraged them to “man up” and while he did not entrap them, there is no denying he had influence. According to Michael and David, they had decided not to use the Molotov cocktails due to the protest of the other activists. They planned to go home, David Hanners even said that he had gone to a concert, booked his flight home, he even admitted that they didn’t have the strategic capabilities to cause property destruction without hurting people in the process which is why they didn’t use the weapons.

Some say Darby is a hero who just wanted to do the right thing, some say he is a crazed egomaniac who just wanted the title of FBI informant. The arguments will undoubtedly rage on,
as they did at a Q&A I attended at Elinor Bunin Monroe films centers on September 11 following a screening of the film, in fact the audience managed to turn on each other in fits of enraged, politicized, frustrations. It was the Occupy Wall Street crowd versus the guy wearing a suit. One mad man in the back, who was eventually removed, spent his time shouting about Chez Guevara and calling Darby a snitch. Ironically, it was actually David Hanner who, over Skype, came to Darby’s defense. The truth of the matter is simple: Jamie Metzler created an interesting documentary for people to argue over.

People love their heroes and villains. They want the story to be “Darby vs. Hanners” but they are simply besides the point. I was highly disappointed at the Q&A, not because of the film, but because of the audience’s participation. There was no discussion, no quest to find the meaning or purpose of the film, in fact, it was pretty much just petty arguments over minor details such as the way in which someone asked or answered a question. Hanner’s requested that the audience go home and use this one situation as a platform for other discussion and I couldn’t agree more. Instead of turning these men into villains or victims why not question the higher powers? Look at the bigger picture. Query why FBI agents would send a highly strung man into an undercover role with no training. Ask why a Molotov cocktail can be made after a quick trip to Walmart. Most importantly, find a way for history not to repeat itself, don’t look to Darby and David, look to your communities, your local authorities and your governments to change things. Watch Informant and decide for yourself.

– Sinann Fetherston

What did you think of the film?! Are you anti or pro authority? Anti or pro activist? Let us know by tweeting us @MoviefiedNYC #Informant

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