Filmmaker Dylan Reibling delves into friendship and mystery with his 2016 documentary Looking for Mike. The piece aired as part of the CBC’s Firsthand series and weaves a very personal tale that is as bizarre as it is poignant. Reibling, the director of various short films and interactive art pieces, takes an intimate approach and sheds light on the concept of identity in the modern era.
The documentary plays out over roughly 45 minutes, so Reibling has to mind the clock. The medium insists on concision and that means compressing of years of work and emotional effort into a slim, made-for-TV runtime. It works because Reibling is honest about his endeavour and game to let the tension play out in the form of a rather orthodox mystery.
The subject is personal. Reibling met a man named Michael de Bourcier back in 2000 while working at an upstart tech company. Dylan and Mike bonded in part because they were both from Goderich, a small-ass town in Ontario on the eastern shore of Lake Huron. Dylan was asked to be a reference on Mike’s passport application and all was well right up until the Toronto police found Mike’s body.
According to the cops, the relatively young man died of a heart attack. He was alone in his apartment, they said. Also, he prepaid for his funeral a week before he died. Also, his name wasn’t really Michael de Bourcier. Reibling’s understandable confusion propels his search for Mike’s real identity and the mystery takes him to some pretty unexpected places.
Looking for Mike is an odd one, to say the least. The tale of Dylan’s pal Mike lacks answers, but the documentary doesn’t lack emotional meat or psychological mystery. Watching the filmmaker take the plunge is an engrossing experience, especially as he draws closer to who his friend really was and discovers family members with the help of a private investigator.
But the piece also begs questions of identity and friendship. For all Reibling thought he knew about Mike, it’s hard to quantify how much he really knew. He’s left with more questions than answers, with his friend’s bogus identity casting shadows over his emotional connections. How much was real? How does the truth impact what’s left behind?
Reibling dedicated at least a dozen years of his life to tracking down Mike with little to show for it. The documentary focuses on his efforts as they pick up steam, with private investigator Dave Perry pointing him in the right direction. A critical discovery in Canada’s Missing Persons Database feels like chance, but Perry’s nudging manifests it into something concrete.
Interestingly, what begins as Reibling’s story branches out to include a mother and a sister with questions of their own. And through their shared experiences, they’re able to come to some semblance of understanding. It’s not quite closure, but it feels like it’s enough.
Reibling’s documentary trudges through cemeteries and phone directories and high school yearbooks with the persistence of a bloodhound. The filmmaker illustrates how truth is stranger than fiction and how a little town like Goderich can hold many surprises. For a man like Mike, a man who just wanted to vanish, Reibling’s lens spares little.
For some, Looking for Mike may feel like immaterial rooting through the past. For more astute viewers, there are larger themes. Reibling’s exploration is resolute and sincere. The viewer feels his inhalation and strain over a certain phone call. The camera picks up his excitement, tension and wonder as he drives up and down the same roads in search of truth.
Reibling’s picture is clever and interesting, with a nose for resourceful pacing and mystery. While it’s a short trip, Looking for Mike accomplishes a lot and transports the viewer through a fog of secrets, lies and half-truths. While its prime subject may be a man few people remember, Reibling’s refusal to forget holds captivating rewards.