Operation Avalanche is by the young Canadian filmmaker Matt Jonson, whose previous feature The Dirties won big at Slamdance a few years ago. His latest movie is an ambitious mockumentary about faking the moon landing at the end of the 1960s. It’s one of the rare “found-footage” films (which are usually horrible) that is actually a fascinating and unique take on that genre.
It follows two CIA agents who infiltrate NASA in search of a Russian mole, and end up spearheading a plan to use video to fake the moon landing when they find out that the US space programme might not actually be advanced enough to pull it off. They are then wrapped up in a massive conspiracy.
The key actors are the director himself and his friend Owen Williams, who play ‘themselves’ as the CIA agents impersonating a documentary film crew, using their own names. This is in fact the ruse they actually used to film themselves in NASA facilities (the Johnson Space Center in Houston) while supposedly making a student documentary. Incredibly, it worked—and they managed to get a 1960s period feel. It was obviously done on a low budget, shot on video with a 16mm lens and transferred to celluloid to achieve the right appearance. Narratively, it’s a bit jumbled—most of the scenes were improvised as befits the ramshackle production. Through technology, you see them interacting with Stanley Kubrick on the set of 2001, and there’s a brilliantly edited-together scene of the actors supposedly visiting the 2001 film set.
It’s a ridiculously ambitious film that, while not perfect by any stretch of imagination, ends up being an admirable success. Operation Avalanche proves that Matt Johnson is a director to keep an eye on: you have to wonder what he could do with a real budget. The DVD includes behind-the-scenes features and deleted scenes.