Despite radical advancements in movie technology, truth still remains stranger than fiction. “The Imposter,” for instance, revisits one of the most jaw-dropping missing person cases in recent history.
Through dramatic recreation and one-on-one interviews, director Bart Layton examines the case of Nicholas Barclay, a 13-year-old boy who disappeared from San Antonio, Texas, on June 13, 1994. “Some people seem to remember [the disappearance] very well. Some people can’t believe they never heard about it,” Layton said when reached by phone.
Three years later, Barclay’s family received word that Nicholas had turned up in Spain. In truth, the long-lost teenager was Frederic Bourdin, a 23-year-old Frenchman who assumed Barclay’s identity to gain entry into the United States.
Layton said that there wasn’t as much archival footage about the incident as he would have liked to use.
“The archive footage that did exist was very compelling, particularly that footage of them at the airport, and their son is supposedly returned,” the director explained. “It’s somewhat annoying when the most extraordinary piece of footage in the film is not the bit that you created, but one that already exists.”
Layton didn’t find the story of Nicholas Barclay until a couple of years ago. Documentary filmmakers, he explained, can wait a long time to come across a story as unusual as this.
“If it was a work of fiction, you’d find it extremely far-fetched. Occasionally, these extraordinary events happen in the real world, sometimes quite inexplicably. I was intrigued and tried to understand, not only what kind of person would commit a crime like this one, but what kind of family might be capable of falling victim to a crime like this,” he said.
While assuming his new teenage identity, Bourdin did not hide his French accent from Beverly Dollarhide and Carey Gibson, Barclay’s mother and sister. Despite appearances to the contrary, the family accepted the fake Nicholas into their home as their own flesh-and-blood.
“That’s really at the heart of the story. [The crime] is equally about self-deception as it is about deception. These are the kinds of things that you are invited to figure out while watching the movie. One of the things we tried to do was create a film where you, the audience, are involved. You are kind of inside the experience,” Layton said.
“The Imposter” also features stark, one-on-one interviews with those people directly connected with the case.
“All the people you see in those interviews are the real people. The only actors in the film are the ones in the reenactments,” Layton explained. “It took some time to actually find them. Once we made contact, they were initially quite skeptical, but ultimately, they wanted to tell their side of the story in their own words. They felt that was something they never had the opportunity to do before.”
Arguably, the most compelling interview is with the 35-year-old Frederic Bourdin, who comes off quite self-satisfied and proud of what he did years ago,
“I would hope that the version of him you see in the documentary is quite close to how he is in real life,” Layton explained. “A big part of [the interview] is him getting to tell the story that he wants to tell, with the audience figuring out where the truth lies.”
“The Imposter” opens in the Los Angeles area on Friday, August 3.