There’s a fine line between determination and obsession. Often the distinguishing characteristic lies in the eyes of the observer. One of the many things that The Writer with No Hands gets right is its understanding that the documentarian is often the final judge in regards to where a person falls on that line. This is evident as we watch director William Westaway attempt to document a story, some might say uncover a conspiracy, about the mysterious 1997 death of Hollywood screenwriter Gary DeVore (Running Scared, Raw Deal and The Dogs of War). Was DeVore’s demise an accident? Was he murdered? Is he even a dead at all?
Westaway’s friend Matt Alford, an academic who wrote his dissertation on the connection between war and Hollywood, has been fascinated by the DeVore case for quite some time. Determined to conduct their own investigation, the pair explore the various witnesses and examine the numerous inconsistencies in the case. The biggest discrepancy being that the body found in DeVore’s car, a year after DeVore went missing, was missing its hands. It’s very unlikely DeVore could have done that to himself.
We get a lot of information about the case from friends and experts, but no witnesses. The film frequently switches between Alford’s fascination of the new details emerging, particularly the ridiculous hypotheses for what happened, and Westaway’s pondering about how the quest for answers is affecting Alford’s life and family? By the end of the film, very little is resolved. We are only left with more questions and theories than we began with. One in particularly being that DeVore may not, in fact, be dead.
As a viewer, we must make up our own minds about whether Alford’s behavior is a misguided obsession or righteous determination. However, we see Alford commenting that Westaway is capable of reframing his film to show whichever side of Alford he chooses, meaning the unbiased nature of a documentary might not be absolute.
Westaway ultimately leaves us to consider two fascinatingly juxtaposed questions: how did Gary DeVore really die? And does a documentary have a bias? Some of the confusion about DeVore’s case is wrapped up in Alford’s obsession. Rather than accepting the facts that have been proven, we see Alford, and sometimes Westaway, repurpose the facts to fit that part of the film. Examining what we know and why we know it might be the greatest thing The Writer with No Hands gives the viewer.
Friday, May 2, 11:15 PM, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema