What happens when you craft a film about a rich and sensitive young lad from an iconic American political family who disappears from the planet and it’s likely he was stabbed, beheaded and then ritually eaten by cannibals in 1968? Better still, unlike any vampire flick, this one is true? Netflix just released such a documentary film, The Search for Michael Rockefeller, a Fraser C. Heston film from his independent studio Agamemnon Films. If you’re a fan of real unsolved mysteries as I am, then ROCKEFELLER is for you. I’ve watched it three times on NETFLIX and still cannot make up my mind about what actually happened to former Vice-President and Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s youngest boy, Michael. Heston’s film doesn’t solve the mystery. It meticulously and cleverly narrates the mystery letting you be the judge of the evidence.
ROCKEFELLER is a powerful mystery with riveting twists and a dazzling WTF ending. In fact, the ending makes you re-run the film immediately if you have the time. I did and the more times I watched it I found the film made me doubt how I look at evidence for claims about missing persons. If you love detective mysteries, you’ll love ROCKEFELLER. That’s because the film makes you the chief inspector.
While the facts of the mystery are pretty straight forward, the solution is still a puzzle wrapped in an enigma surrounded by an unsolved mystery. Fancying himself an anthropologist fresh from Harvard, rich young white boy runs away from politically powerful daddy to photography artwork of the Asmat, a notoriously violent coastal New Guinea tribe of cannibals. His canoe capsizes at sea. He tells his lone companion “I think I can make it!” He jumps into the sea swimming to land off in the distance and, surprise, surprise, he’s never seen again. Not a trace. Nothing, even after rich daddy deploys massive search and rescue resources for months in the area. Nothing! Then the rumors start to swirl: rumors from the native porters who made the swim successfully, rumors from the lone companion, a Dutch anthropologist experienced in the area, rumors from a Dutch priest (there’s always a meddlesome priest mixed up in these sorts of things) rumors from local constables, rumors about sightings here, there and under every hut, rumors about rumors. No hard evidence to confirm or disconfirm any of these rumors.
ROCKEFELLER is cinematic master craftsmanship of false hope, suspicion, rumor, conjecture, cover-up, and barbarism. Michael, the Dutch priest and the cannibals are not the only characters in this film. There’s a dodgy Aussie that lights a fire under a photo magazine editor sending him on a wild-goose chase in search of a Rockefeller lost. Milt Machlin, editor of Argosy magazine and the man who coined the term ‘Bermuda Triangle’, actually shot all the ten thousand feet of 16mm footage Heston uses to craft this documentary except for some mandatory newsreels for context. And that’s a back story to Heston’s film that’s almost as amazing as Michael’s fate itself.
In 2009, Heston was researching a possible feature film on the Michael Rockefeller disappearance when he discovered Macklin’s footage in a Vermont Warehouse. A few months later ‘a movie in a box’ arrived at Agamemnon Films, a production company Fraser C. Heston established with his legendary father, Charlton Heston in 1981. Usually, filmmakers go find their films. Not this one. ROCKEFELLER is a film that found its director, literally. But Machlin's footage was in a thousand pieces mostly without audio. Making a movie out of this box of tangled footage required both patience, perseverance and craft. Fraser C. Heston’s pedigree as a filmmaker shows as his father always announced before any screening of their work. "A film is only as good as its ability to tell a good story.” Heston’s ROCKEFELLER is powerfully riveting and exquisitely crafted. First-Rate, enjoy it on NETFLIX now.