“DTF” is a documentary film by director Al Bailey that explores 18 months in the life of a long-haul airline captain named “Christian” (not his real name) who is attempting to find love via a popular dating app called Tinder. Yet these actions turn into a cautionary tale when the search for a soulmate unleashes addictive and outlandish behavior leading to vice and depravity that conflicts with “Christian’s” consummate professionalism and subsequently puts his job — and his friendship with Al — at risk.
Al recently discussed this film and his experiences working on it.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you decide to enter the film industry and what most appeals to you about documentaries in particular?
Al Bailey (AB): I became director of programming of the Manchester Film Festival in 2014/15 after re-educating myself as a mature student in film studies and English literature, following an eight-year career as a professional footballer (Soccer player). I’d always had a keen interest in both music and film through my teenage years and after the sporting career came to a premature end it felt like the natural field of interest to revert back to and pursue my future in. My passion for story grew and grew working with and programming filmmaker’s work and documentaries in particular struck a chord with me, in the sense that they offer endless opportunities to the stories they find and create, especially within the independent film.
MM: How did you first meet “Christian” and what inspired you to film his experience?
AB: I met “Christian” in 2001/02 in Copenhagen, where I was briefly playing soccer at the time. I was on my own in a foreign country and he was an acquaintance of another friend of mine who was, like Christian, training to be a pilot. We struck up a semi friendship where we’d meet and have a few drinks. I lost touch with him upon returning to the UK but we re-united again when he started flying in and out of the UK with work and he eventually married a mutual friend of mine. He then moved away with a foreign airline and we didn’t see each other much, until his wife sadly passed away. We had a catch up after this period and that is when I was struck by the life he was living and the personal journey he was going through. It felt like a story that needed to be told, but in hindsight it was obviously far removed from the one we ultimately got.
MM: Why did you decide to only keep it going for 18 months and how many locations did you go to?
AB: We set a deadline of two years at the beginning of the project, given the budget requirements and Christian’s personal and professional commitments. We realized very early that the sentiment of the piece was never going to be fulfilled, but as a production we knew we had unearthed something that needed to be exposed. I always felt, from a personal point of view, that some good could come from this for “Christian” and by showing him his behavior it would eventually help him sort his life out… Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be the case and it is now a cautionary tale and somewhat a tragedy that abruptly ended our friendship after 18 months of intense filming.
MM: Most documentary filmmakers keep a distance, but you were friends with “Christian” so how involved did you get with the action?
AB: I always wanted a personal investment with a documentary, that is something I’ll always try to do, as from an audience point of view I feel it engages far more emotion for them than just someone directing behind the camera, those documentaries are fine but for me as a filmmaker it’s about investing myself and immersing into the story and the environment it takes you in. In regards to how involved I got…We said from the outset that myself and the crew were along to experience the journey in its fullest and that the camera’s would role no matter what, I think you can see that in the finished piece and the moral compasses that technique tests is what I feel the most interesting aspect of the film.
MM: How did you find a production company to work with?
AB: We co-produced with the Manchester Film festival and a private group of investors to facilitate the production, so this is a truly independent production which offered us the freedom to explore the more controversial elements in a raw fly on the wall and shoot from the hip, no holds barred manner.
MM: What’s your favorite part of the movie and why?
AB: From a totally personal point of view I have to say the ending. It was a savagely long and draining experience that is condensed into just 83 minutes and each time I see the abrupt ending it gives me a sense of relief and closure from the personal and professional journey the documentary took me on. It’s also extremely interesting that the common consensus is that it leaves many people with wanting more, which ironically is the polar opposite to my own feelings.
MM: What’s the most memorable behind-the-scenes story you have?
AB: This is a really interesting question to tackle given the nature of the documentary is very much what you see in front is what you see behind, as the involvement of the crew is pivotal in the story we document. The communications with both Tinder and the airlines are something we couldn’t legally show so I guess for me that would be the most memorable off or cut camera incidents, as everything else the audience sees is pretty much our off-camera experiences.
MM: What other films have you directed and what are they about?
AB: This is my first time as director, one which was both painful and amazing, but I’m up and ready to do it all over again!
MM: What are your ultimate career goals and what subjects might you tackle in the future?
AB: My ultimate career goals are to keep documenting stories that are unique and engage with a broad demographic. The thought of delivering films that emote both good and bad feelings from any subject is something that inspires me to find and deliver that next project and the one after that. Throwing myself within each subject and their environment are the projects I am most interested in and will continue to pursue.
MM: What projects are coming up for you soon and is there anything else that you would like to talk about?
AB: I have a couple of immediate projects in the pipeline both in the realms of sporting documentaries. I can’t go into too much detail given, again like DTF, the personal and confidential nature…However I can say one concerns the international sports betting community and the other involves the relationship between affluency and third world junior soccer…After those two I have several narrative screenplays I’m currently developing with more experienced narrative feature directors. Writing narrative pieces is something I really enjoy and I see it as good relief from the intensity of the directing documentaries arm to my work…Passing an original story of my own onto a talented director is something I would love to do, and see it evolve from another creative brain rather than your own.