Fallen lords and murder most foul

Vikram Jayanti is committed to making docs that entertain people. 'What will make documentaries into something other than the poor country cousin of movies is sheer entertainment value,' he says. 'You've got to push it for maximum impact, and comedy is the way to do it.'
January 1, 2001

This could not be truer than with his most recent feature-length effort, The Man Who Bought Mustique. Producer Jayanti recounts how he and director Joseph Bullman were first introduced to the film’s starring character by chance at a Caribbean airport: ‘We saw this tall, old, parchment-skinned white man, in a huge, eccentric hat, wearing Indian pajamas – white silk linen with a monogram on the side with a crown and a ‘G’ on it,’ he explains. ‘I went up to him and said ‘Excuse me, I don’t know what he looks like, but are you by any chance Colin Tennant?’ And from his great patrician height he said, ‘Yes, I am Lord Glenconner, and who are you?”

The film captures the aging but energetic Tennant on one of his rare visits to Mustique, the lush Caribbean island he once owned. A paragon of the 1960s swinging jet set, he entertained rock stars and royalty at Mustique, but was kicked off the island after relinquishing its

control to his ‘friends’ due to financial difficulties.

Watching the film, it’s easy to see why he wore out his welcome. Name-calling, foot stomping and even chair throwing were not above the aged aristocrat when things were not going his way on set. ‘We didn’t quite know how difficult he could be,’ remembers Jayanti. ‘He honestly, probably, in his head was thinking the film he was imagining was what we were making. And throughout the film, you see him directing us, and we’re continually trying to negotiate with him about how to do it.’

The film is laugh-out-loud funny and not altogether condemning of Tennant, who comes off as charming and regal at times. A true colonialist in the most romantic sense, he is described by Jayanti as ‘the last of his kind; a perfect symbol of the vanishing empire. He’s the Cheshire cat grin as it’s disappearing off the British Empire.’ He’s also perfect fodder for British TV. Commissioned by U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 for a slot during their Caribbean theme week last August, the film was shot on digital for £200,000 (US$285,000), and aired as a 52-minute version. The feature-length cut debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, and will premiere theatrically at New York’s Film Forum on May 9. It will also be released theatrically in France.

Meanwhile, Jayanti has recently formed his own L.A.-based production company, called VIXPIX, and has two more Brit-funded projects underway. He recently signed another deal with C4, this time teaming up with director Julian Simpson on I Confess. Budgeted at approximately £130,000 (US$185,000) the 52-minute, one-off is destined for the channel’s ‘Cutting Edge’ strand and will examine cases of innocent people confessing to crimes they didn’t commit.

Jayanti’s other project will probe into the wild lifestyle and persona of one of America’s most notorious crime writers, James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, Black Dahlia). Jayanti will produce and direct the feature, tentatively called James Ellroy’s Feast of Death (although Ellroy himself prefers James Ellroy’s American Death Trip). The doc will be shot on 16mm and digital video for around £250,000 (US$360,000), provided by the BBC. It will air on the Beeb in May/June 2001, launched simultaneously with Ellroy’s new book The Cold 6000.

Having cultivated a close relationship with the self-proclaimed ‘demon dog of American crime literature,’ Jayanti will delve into Ellroy’s sensational world, replete with his homicide dick and movie star friends. A group customarily gathers at Ellroy’s favorite restaurant each night, where the cops bring unsolved murders with them to discuss. ‘What we’re actually going to do in this film is solve the [1947] Black Dahlia murder,’ Jayanti explains. ‘It’s never been solved… but someone has come up with a solution that both Ellroy and the cops feel is the first completely believable one.’

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.