Saturday, November 12, 2016

DOC NYC ’16: The Lure

There is gold in the Rockies. Forrest Fenn knows, because he put it there. Bestselling novelist and narrative nonfiction writer Douglas Preston is the only living soul besides Fenn who seen inside the eccentric millionaire’s hidden treasure chest—so far—as far as we know. His description of the gold within it will not dissuade the growing ranks of treasure hunters (yes, my house publishes Preston’s Wyman Ford novels, why do you ask?). The hider and the seekers discuss the modern-day treasure hunt in Tomas Leach’s The Lure (trailer here), which screens during DOC NYC 2016.

After surviving a cancer scare, Fenn apparently decided he needed to shake things up. The prosperous (and sometimes controversial) art dealer hatched a plan to bury a strong box full of loot somewhere in the mountains north of Santa Fe. He assures us he embedded nine clues to its location in a poem. Whoever finds the treasure, reportedly valued in the neighborhood of two to three million dollars, may keep it, fair and square.

Apparently, a flock of people have come to Santa Fe, in hopes of doing just that. Ever the trickster, Fenn often engages with the “hunters” online, occasionally even dropping even more cryptic clues. Clearly, he is enjoying all the drama and intrigue. As for the hunters, they vary tremendously. The healthy ones seem to enjoy the challenge as well as the time spent amid the splendor of the Rockies. We even meet one hunter who seems to find her match through her new enthusiasm for climbing and hiking. Others clearly become obsessed in the wrong way.

The Fenn treasure mania is exactly the kind of subject that cries out for documentary treatment, but Leach’s quiet, observational approach feels like a mismatch. A weird story like this demands more attitude and irony. Nobody drops any movie quotes, like “the stuff dreams are made of.” Instead, he shows us plenty of treasure hunters hiking around in the mountains.

There is something very American about the Fenn treasure and the man behind it. Leach’s previous documentary, In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter was an excellent film, but he probably is not the right filmmaker to give The Lure the capery vibe the hunters would appreciate. It is impossible to make Fenn boring, but ultimately the film is too reserved for its own good. Recommended for those looking for a Charles Kuralt-style examination of the Fenn treasure craze, The Lure screens tomorrow (11/13) and Tuesday (11/15), as part of this year’s DOC NYC.