Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Found-footage feature fuses fiction and facts

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The Conspiracy walks like a doc and talks like a doc, but don't be fooled; it's actually a clever piece of fiction. At least, given the subject matter, I hope that's all it is.

The film follows two documentary filmmakers, played by Aaron Poole and James Gilbert, as they embark on an exploration of conspiracy theories and the, er, freethinkers who propagate them. Chief among these is Terrance (Alan C. Peterson), whose stereotypically low-rent digs include a wall covered with newspaper clippings, annotated with sticky notes and arrows.

"It's easy to turn you into me, but you don't want to be me," Terrence tells his interlocutors. Indeed they don't; midway through their interview sessions, the man's apartment is ransacked, and he disappears without a trace. Aaron decides to reconstruct what he can from the debris, and he soon falls under the spell of paranoia, pattern recognition and coincidence that is the beating heart of every conspiracy theorist.

James, who has a wife and a child to worry about, is less keen about disappearing down this rabbit hole, but he gamely follows along in the name of journalistic integrity. Their investigations eventually lead to the Tarsus Club, a meeting place for international movers and shakers with a three-word mission statement: New World Order.

It's here the movie, by first-time feature writer and director Christopher MacBride, starts to burst at its low-budget seams. Up to this point it's managed to get by on copious use of stock footage -- including, disturbingly, images of the Kennedy assassination and the 9/11 attacks.

But when Aaron and James manage to infiltrate a Tarsus Club meeting, they kit themselves out with tiny tie-clip cameras, resulting in a lot of dark and muddy footage. On the one hand, it mirrors their emotional state, but these are not the most watchable images, especially after the polished-doc look of the film's opening minutes.

Still, MacBride knows how to blur the lines between fiction and fact, stocking (and stoking) his film with interviews of actual believers as well as bona fide experts. Yes, there is a real Roger Beck, a University of Toronto authority on the ancient cult of Mithras, whose story of death and resurrection predates the Jesus narrative by some 2,000 years.

But good luck Googling the Tarsus Club. You'll find a Wikipedia entry, with a link to an unadorned but official-looking web page. But why would such a secret society have an Internet presence at all? "A total media blackout is a void just asking to be filled by fertile imaginations," says one of the characters in The Conspiracy. That's true regardless of whether or not anyone is hiding anything.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2013 D5

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