The Great Gangster Film Fraud
Documentary about a bankrupt Jordanian entrepreneur and an unemployed Irish actress who hatch a plan to scam £2.5m off the British taxman by faking the production of a £20m movie. But they are found out, arrested and then bailed. While out on bail, they decide to prove their innocence by actually making a film. They hire a former nightclub bouncer, now a self-made micro-budget gangster film director. In 2011, Paul Knight makes their movie for under £100,000 with a cast of soap and gangster movie stars including Danny Midwinter, Marc Bannerman and Loose Women's Andrea McLean. The film's title is A Landscape of Lies. But the cinematic alibi does not convince the jury when the trial runs in 2013. The producers are convicted of tax fraud and given long sentences.
A comic British crime caper and classic heist movie, but in this movie the heist IS the movie.
Ben Lewis, director of The Great Gangster Film Fraud answers the Storyville Q&A
Story. There is far too much bullshit talked about whether someone is a ‘good enough character’ for a film. Usually that comes with these absurd ‘rules’ about what a ‘character’ in a film should be like, and far too many films nowadays have very similar formulaic characters in them . If something interesting has happened, let’s just tell the story.
What made you first want to explore the subject?
It was a story in a newspaper. Documentaries usually look to criticise the world around them, expose corruption and fraud in the worlds beyond film-making, but here was a story where the fraud actually was, or seemed to be the film-making. I thought the subject told us a lot about naivety, desperation and dodginess in the film industry, as well as just the difficulty of getting films made, which so many of us have encountered. Sure it is an extreme case of VAT fraud, but we all know that money has to be juggled, and chances taken to get a film made.
How long did it take to get the film off the ground?
It took over a year. I found the subject in March 2013. The BBC commissioned it in 30 seconds! But other broadcasters were not so receptive. I pitched it at the Sheffield Documentary festival with 45 meetings, and came away with a tiny offer from an Israeli channel. I am a well-known film-maker but still it is ever more difficult to get TV channels and film funds to take an interest in a story which is not formulaic, which does not have a story of triumph at its heart, a loveable character who overcomes insuperable odds to do x, y or z… and I despise those kinds of stories because life is not that nice. I started making the film in mid 2013 and only finished in Nov 2015. Getting several of the interviews took a year.
What were you most surprised to learn in the course of production?
I found 300GBs of behind the scenes footage including video diaries. After being arrested and released on bail, the convicted film-fraudsters didn’t just make a film ‘A Landscape of Lies’ to prove their innocence, they recorded video diaries in which they attempted to explain everything that had done since 2010 as legit. The whole thing was a giant cinematic alibi.
Which documentary has most inspired you?
Recently? Cartel Land. Previously? Kurt and Courtney
Person you’d most like to interview (living or dead?)
Best piece of filmmaking advice you’ve ever been given?
Always think where to put the camera
Best piece of filmmaking equipment you can’t live without?
My 4k tiny Panasonic LX-100
If money was no object, what is your dream documentary subject?
The history of the Hammond organ
Favourite film of all time?
Most difficult access?
HMRC, the British tax office
Best recent read?
Italo Calvino “If on a winter’s night a traveller”
|Series Editor||Nick Fraser|