'No Cameras Allowed': Film Review

Where's security when you need them?

James Marcus Haney's documentary recounts his experiences sneaking into the world's hottest music festivals

You have to give James Marcus Haney props. The former USC film school student managed to sneak into some of the world’s hottest music festivals, including Coachella, Bonnaroo, Ultra and Glastonbury, without paying a dime. He managed to parlay the photos and video footage he shot into a career as a music photographer and a documentary filmmaker working for HBO. He became friends with such performers as Mumford & Sons and was invited to join them on the Railroad Revival Tour. And he’s turned all of his experiences into his debut documentary No Cameras Allowed, produced by MTV Films and receiving a theatrical release before being broadcast on the channel later his month.

So why does watching his film make you want to slap him?

Maybe it’s because it’s a celebration of illegal activity and chutzpah as the way to get ahead in the world. Or that it’s coyly positioned as a charming coming-of-age tale about a young man who realizes that the true value of life is in relationships with family and friends rather than blithely having a good time. In any case, it’s insufferable. Assuming, of course, that it's legit.

In direct addresses to the camera, the boyishly charming Haney attempts to regale us with his capers, which began when he decided in 2010 to crash Coachella in order to meet up with a young woman on whom he had a crush. The experience proved so intoxicating that he decided to make a habit of it for the next several years, using cameras, fake wristbands and media passes with such success that the aforementioned festivals are now surely revising their security methods.

Yes, he got caught and kicked out several times, most notably at Bonnaroo when he was driven to a remote spot and unceremoniously dropped off. But he managed to get a short film he made about the experience, called Connaroo, into the hands of Mumford & Sons, who were apparently so impressed that they allowed him to join them onstage for their next festival gig.

When they subsequently invited him to come along on their Railroad Revival Tour, also featuring Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show, Haney had a quandary. If he accepted, it would mean missing his university finals and not getting his degree. His decision caused no small consternation to his parents, seen in painful interviews interspersed throughout the film. But then again, he did get his photo of Jay-Z into Rolling Stone.

After getting nearly seriously injured while filming the running of the bulls in Pamplona for HBO, Haney rethought his priorities, with the film’s final section devoted to his reconnection to friends old and new, including the improbably named Grim Grim, an elderly Welsh man who picked him up while he was hitchhiking to Glastonbury.

It’s all intended to come across as harmless fun, with Haney’s elaborate methods of getting into one particularly stringent festival depicted with all the exuberance of an Ocean’s 11 caper movie. Adding to the jovial atmosphere are the frequent animated interludes filling in the action.

The film is probably a highly effective calling card, unfortunately. Accompanying the end credits is footage of Haney attending the Grammys, where he also apparently sneaked in. Not surprisingly, he’s grinning from ear to ear.

Production: Fake Empire

Director/director of photography: James Marcus Haney

Producers: Lis Rowinski, Michelle Knudsen, Matt Barber

Executive producers: Robyn Demarco, Joshua Vodnoy, Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, James Parrinello, James Marcus Haney, Alexandra Patsavas, Mason Novick, Michael Raimondi

Editor: John-Michael Powell

No rating, 84 minutes