SXSW FILM 2010
By Don Simpson | March 10, 2010
Directors: David Bond, Melinda McDougall
David Bond (the titular subject of this documentary) lives in one of the most intrusive surveillance countries in the world – Great Britain. (Bond purports that Britain ranks third behind China and Russia as the most heavily surveilled societies in the world). Upon receiving a letter regarding a recent security breach that could have exposed some of his personal data, Bond begins to think about information security and what information is “out there” about him and his family. (The Orwellian tagline for the film reads: “He has nothing to hide, but does he have nothing to fear?”)
First, Bond sends countless requests to various corporations and government entities to find out what information they have on him – the returned results are staggering (especially the ginormous package that he receives from Amazon UK). Then, he decides to disappear – go “off the grid,” if you will – for one month. In doing so, he hires two top-notch private investigators to attempt to track him down utilizing whatever data they can acquire. Bond brings a hand-held camera along with him; the PIs are followed by a camera crew.
So, Bond abandons his 7-month pregnant wife and young child (a decision that does not make him very sympathetic to the audience), but he never completely cuts off contact with them. Bond may say that he is going “off the grid,” but he still uses his Blackberry and enjoys regular communication with his family. It seems going “off the grid” and living a normal life are in no way related – Bond could have hidden in a mud hut in Wales (which he does for a brief period of time – at the peak of a mental breakdown) with no communication with the outside world for 30 days, but he wanted to maintain as much of his lifestyle as possible so he takes trains, makes phone calls, uses the internet and meets up with friends, family and bloggers.
Essentially, Bond makes it rather easy for the PIs to track him (one might say too easy) – which they do by following the breadcrumbs from his electronic data trail and good old fashion dumpster-diving. Honestly, I do not think it would be much of a spoiler to say that the PIs eventually catch him (thanks to a hospital giving the PIs information about his wife’s upcoming appointments – which is probably the most effective moment in the film). The driving purpose of Erasing David would have been negated if Bond had truly been able to disappear.
In the end, the political motive of Erasing David is to show just how simple it is to get private data on any individual or family and how damaging that data (especially when it is erroneous) can be. Erasing David is also overtly conscious of its need to address the politics of some of the campaigns in favor of privacy rights by way of interviews (conducted before or during Bond’s time “off the grid”) – plus this tactic helps support that he’s not just a wacky lone conspiracy theorist afraid of Big Brother. Bond needs to intertwine these interviews throughout Erasing David to effectively drill home his message: other people (respectable, intelligent people) share Bond’s fears; real people have been really affected by bad data.
For better or worse, Erasing David also exemplifies just how paranoid and delusional even the most innocent of people can become by having their privacy invaded. (Bond visits with a therapist on multiple occasions during Erasing David in an attempt to deal with his paranoia and delusions.) There are several occasions that Bond offers up a mental breakdown for the camera, but unfortunately these scenes feel as contrived (read: acted) as footage from The Blair Witch Project (in fact, the nighttime mud hut footage plays like an outtake from The Blair Witch Project).