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Honor Roll 2012: Bart Layton Answers Some of the Many Questions From His Award-Winning 'Imposter'

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire December 4, 2012 at 10:57AM

Honor Roll is a daily series running throughout December that features new or previously published interviews, profiles and first-person stories of some of the year's most notable cinematic voices. Today, we're running a our interview with Bart Layton, whose documentary, "The Imposter," was just announced as one of the selected 15 that will be vying for an Academy Award nomination in the Documentary Feature category.
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"I think the interesting thing about it is that it's not a kind of investigative documentary. It's kind of about truth and lies. You need to be presented to this person and feel sort of manipulated."

Would you have made the film without 'the imposter's' participation?

[Long pause.] I think it would have been really difficult to make it without either his or their participation. I think the interesting thing about it is that it's not a kind of investigative documentary. It's kind of about truth and lies. You need to be presented to this person and feel sort of manipulated. One of the things that's really interesting is that once you the audience have been sucked in by it, you can kind of see how everyone else could be. So it gives you this other dimension which I think is much more interesting than kind of telling a story about someone. It's just a different kind of a film I think.

He seemed to take great pleasure in retelling his stories. Is that an apt assessment?

I think that's probably true. I think probably he's a person that confuses attention with affection.

How much did you spend with him?

The interviews were shot over two long days.

What was it like to meet the man you had been reading about for so long?

One of the things you get when you sit down with him is you realize that you're on the receiving end of some of his sneakiness and manipulation. So you go through quite different emotions with him. There's a part of you which thinks, "I need to look after this guy." He's quite charming and he's quite sweet and he's quite sympathetic. And then there's another bit where you go, "Shit I must be falling for it." And so I guess that was also something that I wanted the audience to experience. I felt like that was the thing. That's why he should look down the camera lens and he should be big in frame so you have this kind of interaction with him where you are having that direct experience of him and his manipulation in a way.

Has he seen the film?

He hasn't yet no. It's mainly because I've been away a great deal and I want watch it with him. But no he hasn't.

"The Imposter"
Indomina Releasing "The Imposter"

A large chunk of the film consists of dramatic reenactments. What made you decide to go down that route?

I think I always knew that that was an important part of how to tell this story, and how to make it bigger. We didn't have masses of archives. I think drama in the documentary community can be a dirty word and I think people can frown upon it. It can be very problematic if you are trying to create drama sequences which you're trying to pass it off as a fake archive. It's like you're trying to say to the audience, "Look at this it really happened, it's reality." So I wanted to go the opposite way. I didn't want reality; I wanted this dream like quality that was kind of film noir. It was like memory; we all know memory can be unreliable. So I wouldn't call it reenactment, I wouldn't' call it reconstruction because that implies that you're forensically recreating a set of events that must have happened. What I wanted was something that said, "It's not what must have happened. This is what this person wants you to believe happened."

So did your experience making "The Imposter" give you the desire to make a full blown narrative feature?

I'm definitely interested in moving into other things. I'm really interested in challenging this perception that there are genre boundaries that you shouldn't cross. I don't know who wrote those rules really. I think as you go into pure fiction you kind of lose something that's amazing about human beings. In movie world anything can happened. People climb walls and dress up in superhero outfits. It doesn't need to be true. But in the real world, equally strange things happen. You can see in this film, equally mad, far fetched things happen. I like the idea that you can create a work, a movie movie, so your experience of it is like a movie, and you engage with it as you would a piece of cinema.

We all demand a certain thing of the movies -- that it tells a great story, that it provides escapism, or that it's beautifully shot. Maybe we're not all like that. I think there are ways of taking true stories, and giving all of that to it.

Honor Roll 2012 Profiles:
December 3: Marion Cotillard, "Rust and Bone"
December 2: John Hawkes, "The Sessions"
December 1: The Team Behind "How to Survive a Plague"

This article is related to: Honor Roll 2012, honor roll, Bart Layton, The Imposter, Interviews






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