'Fly Colt Fly: The Legend of the Barefoot Bandit': SIFF Review

Fly Colt Fly Film Still - H 2014
Courtesy of SIFF

Fly Colt Fly Film Still - H 2014

A lively doc focuses on the folk-hero aspect of an impressive crime spree.

The brief career of teenage outlaw Colton Harris-Moore is chronicled in animation and myth-making reenactments.

SEATTLE — Brothers Adam and Andrew Gray are clearly enamored of their subject in Fly Colt Fly, a doc about the Washington state 17 year-old who managed to evade the FBI and other lawmen for two years while committing a string of brazen thefts. Colton Harris-Moore, also known as the Barefoot Bandit, was daring in ways conducive to myth-making, and the film plays along, offering romantic live-action reenactments and animated scenes whose anime-influenced energy never flags. The film will play especially well here in the teen's home state, but is colorful enough to win fans elsewhere on the fest circuit and on video, paving the way for a possible Hollywood adaptation down the road. (A rival documentary appears to be nearing completion as well.)

Though fest materials describe Harris-Moore as a "Robin Hood for the YouTube generation," his crimes can hardly be construed as socially motivated, even if his most dramatic — stealing small airplanes for joyrides, having taught himself to fly with ill-gotten training materials — might capture the imagination of citizens who could never dream of owning a plane. He robbed for himself, not others, and appears to have been indiscriminate about his targets: Yes, he stole from the vacation homes of the wealthy, but also from mom-and-pop grocery stores and restaurants.

The Grays don't spend much time with the victims, instead focusing on the excitement of the crime. Having broken out of a halfway house, Harris-Moore embarked on a spree of burglaries on little Camano Island in Puget Sound; local TV stations fixated on the crime spree, which got plenty of play thanks to the thief's age. Also novel was the fact that security-cam footage showed he was shoeless during some of these capers; the boy embraced the nickname newspeople gave him, even drawing bare feet on the ground sometimes as a Zorro-like signature.

We meet one of Harris-Moore's partners in crime, the hilariously named Harley Davidson Ironwing, who tells of near-misses with police that translate well to cartoon action sequences: Scrunch-faced cops stumble over themselves as the hoodie-clad hero dashes into the darkness.

We're told that local authorities thought of the boy as a ghost, able to vanish into thick woods as soon as they picked up his trail; numerous campsites were stocked with gear he bought using pilfered credit cards. His skills at evading detectives, though, aren't nearly as impressive as the fact that he taught himself how to fly before he ever got behind the stick: Sure, he may have crash-landed one or two planes once he started stealing them from little private airports, but never so violently that he couldn't escape the wreckage before it was found.

Only fairly late in the film, after reveling in the way young people began celebrating his exploits in social media, do the Grays start talking about Harris-Moore's troubled youth, during which neglectful parenting left him to fend for himself. They nod toward this background as if they're concerned some viewers mightn't identify with Colt as much as they do, which indeed is likely. But they never speak to the young man himself, who's now serving a six-and-a-half year jail sentence, and little in the film suggests they're interested in him as something more than a colorful outlaw fantasy.

Production company: The Film Works

Directors-Editors: Adam Gray, Andrew Gray

Producers: Michael Cowan, Eric Jordan, Paul Stephens

Directors of photography: Adam Gray, Sean Fritz

Music: Sean Fritz

No rating, 82 minutes