DTF (2020 Documentary)

Directed by: Al Bailey. Released: September 15, 2020 (on Digital & DVD). Runtime: 1h 25 min.

Some things don’t always go according to plan. That’s a statement filmmaker Al Bailey seems like he’d be familiar with, as his new documentary DTF really wanders from its original premise. The set-up is following his air pilot friend “Christian” as he flies around the world, hooking up with women on Tinder, and we see this in the first part of the film as “Christian’s” dates are documented.

He’s referred to as “Christian” because his real name is kept secret in the documentary, with his face blurred and his voice altered. The reason behind this becomes clear throughout, as some of Christian’s behaviour is shocking throughout the film. Some of it leans into the comedy of this documentary, but a lot of his behaviour ranges from icky to despicable as this goes away from that Tinder experiment and we start to learn that Christian has a serious problem.

The warped voice of Christian gets irritating throughout the film, but even if it was his regular voice, he would still get on my nerves. Christian’s too much of a schmuck to care about throughout the film, and the documentary does lose some focus throughout as it goes with the flow of its subject as it hops from different locations, like Los Angeles, San Diego, Colorado or Hong Kong, among others. We get a behind-the-scenes aspect as Bailey talks with his producers and decides to continue the documentary and alter the focus as there are various points throughout the film where the production feels doomed, as Christian is such an unpredictable subject.

Since this was conceived as a participatory documentary from the get-go where Bailey would also be on-screen interviewing Christian about his experience, this all feels natural for the story. I did appreciate learning more about what filmmakers do when the subject of the documentary becomes drastically different, and Bailey handles it well. He adapts and overcomes, bringing different situations into the doc – like a sequence where Christian tries virtual reality porn as an attempt to solve his sex addiction. This is a scene that lends to the film’s natural comedy well.

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Director Al Bailey talking with doc subject “Christian” in DTF. (Courtesy of Jump Seat Productions.)

Bailey brings a layer here as he’s so involved with the documentary himself, often sharing the screen with Christian and this just becomes a documentary about their own friendship and trying to survive this ordeal. It also becomes a question of where’s the line of how far you’re willing to let your friend go?

That becomes an interesting thing to explore, and another interesting aspect of this documentary is learning about the subculture of pilots who may act similarly and have problems with alcohol, drugs or sex, or all of the above. It makes us realize we don’t truly know who’s flying our planes when we’re on a flight (think Denzel Washington’s character in Flight about a pilot with alcohol abuse issues). This could have been a much bigger aspect of this documentary if the filmmakers were able to find anyone who would talk about that aspect, but they unfortunately were not.

You can tell how passionate Al Bailey is about this documentary at the beginning, and in his “performance” I got the sense of his disappointment of how far this has strayed from his original vision of it being a lite documentary about finding love across the world with the swipe of a finger, and how a dating app can bring people closer together. (With that said, more interviews with Tinder users than the very brief ones used would have added a welcome dimension.) I could also feel Bailey’s frustration with his friend.

This frustration leads to Bailey’s enthusiasm for the film waning – as he states – and when that happened, my enthusiasm waned, too, as Bailey is such an active player in this film, too. There’s a point in DTF where it starts to feel negative with some of the entertainment value gone, turning into a doc exploring addiction. It becomes real world and I was not expecting that when I heard the premise. This is still a strong film, but being forced to go away from that Tinder aspect makes it lose its power of what it’s truly trying to say.

Score: 63/100

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