Tribeca review: A Gray State tells David Crowley’s strange and tragic story

David Crowley, self portrait, October 2014, two months before murders. Film still from A Gray State
David Crowley self portrait, October 2014, two months before murders, in a still from A Gray State

In this feature documentary the stranger-than-truth story of David Crowley – a young and mediagenic rising alt-right personality – is revealed in chilling detail.

A veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, Crowley was on the cusp of stardom when he, his wife and their 5-year-old daughter were found brutally murdered in their suburban middle-class Minneapolis home.

On the wall of their living room was scrawled in blood an Arabic phrase. The film’s title refers to the eponymous narrative feature that Crowley, a budding director, had been obsessed in making.

In Crowley’s Gray State, set in a dystopian near-future, a shadowy federal government tramples on the rights of the free and the brave. Tea Party activists and libertarians could not get enough!

Indeed, he successfully raised tens of thousands of dollars through internet crowdsourcing to finance his writing of the screenplay. Now, all he had to do was to finish the film.

Throughout the process Crowley amassed hundreds hours of video, hoping to parlay it into a making-of documentary. The filmmaker of this documentary, Erik Nelson, is the producer of several award-winning documentaries by Werner Herzog, who in turn executive produced Nelson’s film.

Like Herzog’s Grizzly Man, A Gray State is ultimately about a man obsessed with achieving the impossible at all cost. Nelson does a superb job in unraveling the mystery of Crowley’s world. Saying much more would reveal too much about the story.

While his film likely never will be made, A Gray State, ironically, does ensure that Crowley will receive the celebrity that he so desperately sought.

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