Barefoot Bandit’s story retold in documentary that uses animation

EVERETT — It’s 8 p.m. on Wednesday in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, and independent filmmaker Andrew Gray hasn’t eaten dinner.

His mind is lost in a comic book at the studio he and his brother, Adam, run together.

Andrew isn’t reading about Batman or The Flash, his childhood favorites. Instead, he’s following an opus about a totally different character, one who in real life came to be known as the Barefoot Bandit.

That was the nickname given Camano Island teenager-turned-outlaw Colton Harris-Moore. His nine-state, three-country crime spree grabbed international attention when he broke into homes and businesses and stole cars, boats and airplanes before his July 2010 arrest in the Bahamas.

The Colton comic book is aimed to promote the Gray brothers’ feature-length documentary, “Fly Colt Fly: Legend of the Barefoot Bandit,” which premiered at a Toronto film festival earlier this month and in Canadian theaters Friday.

The Gray brothers directed, shot and edited “Fly Colt Fly,” spending several weeks on Camano Island and in western Washington while Harris-Moore was still on the run. They followed the fugitive’s footsteps to the Bahamas — the end of the line for the lanky teen.

The brothers initially stumbled onto the Harris-Moore story while doing Internet research for a film script on Billy The Kid, the 19th century trigger-happy gun slinger. Although Harris-Moore hadn’t committed violent crimes, the two outlaws often attracted comparisons for their youth and the way their exploits captured the imagination. Harris-Moore had tens of thousands of Facebook followers. His face appeared on T-shirts, and songs were written about him.

Harris-Moore began committing a string of burglaries when he was 10. By age 15, his face appeared on wanted posters distributed by Island County Sheriff’s deputies. He broke out of juvenile detention in 2007 and stole his first plane in November 2008, teaching himself to fly — and land — by trial and error. He later crashed a stolen plane near Granite Falls and set off a manhunt that included SWAT teams, the FBI and helicopters.

The directors said their film is about how public fascination with Harris-Moore made him attempt to become the folk hero his fans wanted him to be, and how his growing fame became his downfall. His story, they say, is as much about myth as it is about fact.

The film melds documentary interviews with graphic novel-style animation action scenes.

“Animation was something new,” Andrew Gray said. “What was really important to us was to tell the tale that was told through the media, which was the legend of the bandit, as opposed to what happened. Over the course of two years and all of the false information that would come out on the Internet, it was such a complicated story and the truth would often get lost… Everyone sort of used their imagination.”

That comes through in the film, said Jackson Holtz, a former Herald crime reporter who covered the Harris-Moore story from start to finish and wrote the book, “Fly, Colton, Fly: The True Story of the Barefoot Bandit.”

“They did a good job of bringing together both the real story of Colton Harris-Moore and the parallel story of how Colton Harris-Moore became the Barefoot Bandit, a figure in the lore of American outlaw folk heroes.”

Holtz was interviewed in the film and was listed in the credits as a story consultant.

“I hope that it gets picked up in the greater Puget Sound area,” Holtz said. “I think people here would enjoy seeing the film.”

The Seattle International Film Festival is a possibility, Andrew Gray said.

Their film doesn’t include interviews from Harris-Moore.

That wasn’t something they realistically expected.

Harris-Moore signed a $1.3 million deal with 20th Century Fox with the money earmarked towards restitution to his victims. Harris-Moore is serving a seven-year prison sentence.

A call for an update on the big-budget film project was not returned last week.

Andrew Gray said the film tries to strike a balance for its audience.

“I hope they get a little more than entertainment,” he said. “We didn’t want to come across as condoning a criminal, but we didn’t want to preach about it either. I hope that people will learn a little more than the headlines gave them and if they do want to learn more they will be inspired to do so.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com

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