For the past two years, my co-director Dan Nuxoll and I have been shooting a feature documentary called The Mystery of Marie Jocelyne about alleged con artist, convicted criminal and proprietor of allegedly fraudulent film festivals, Marie Castaldo. In order to complete production of the film, we’ve created a video and launched a Kickstarter campaign. With the funds we raise, we plan to shoot the rest of the interviews for the film and, in doing so, come closer to solving the mystery of Marie.
The story of how this all came about is quite unusual. You can read much more about this at the link above, but basically it all began when Marie Castaldo, then the director of the Queens International Film Festival, rented some equipment from Dan’s company, Rooftop Films. She never paid them afterwards, and she initially disappeared without a trace. By the time she re-surfaced to present the next year’s film festival, Dan and I had met, and we started doing a little bit of research on Marie. One thing led to another, and we discovered that Marie had a long list of names that she’d used over the years, and under these various aliases, she had been running ethically suspect film festivals and film companies across the country for over twenty years.
At that point, Dan had produced, composed and sound designed a documentary called Kiss My Snake in 2006, and I had produced, co-directed, and co-edited the 2008 documentary Bi the Way. Both of us loved documentary filmmaking, but we were also busy with other projects. Dan was (and is) the program director of Rooftop Films, where he screens thousands of movies a year, looking for the best films to program for Rooftop’s summer series. As an active member of the independent film community, he is often busy attending other film festivals and serving on juries at festivals like Slamdance and SXSW. Meanwhile, I was busy pursuing several other documentary projects, while also freelancing as a shooter and editor.
Yet despite how busy we both were, I felt that having been lucky enough to stumble upon an incredible story like this one, we had to make it into a feature film. But when it all started, the project was very casual. We began filming because we couldn’t believe how crazy the whole situation was. Dan and I went to the 2009 QiFF to try to talk to Marie and interview festival-goers about the scandal. We borrowed a camera from a filmmaker friend, and I shot as much footage as possible before we were barred from the festival venue. That was one of the many times that Marie eluded us, but as it turns out, that was our first real shoot for this project.
Despite not having any funding at that time, Dan and I continued shooting the project, reaching out to people who had known Marie and filming interviews with the help of many wonderful friends and colleagues, including cinematographers Andreas Burgess and Catherine Goldschmidt, as well as photographer Irwin Seow. It has been an incredible process. I’ve always secretly wanted to work as a private detective, and this project has been the closest that I’ve come. I found myself calling Marie’s ex-boyfriends and former business partners, people who hadn’t seen her in twenty years, and hearing the same crazy story over and over again — that Marie, sometimes alone, and sometimes with partners, had scammed or conned them out of tens of thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands, of dollars.
The biggest development, however, happened this October, when Dan and I were able to meet Marie in person and interview her for over 30 hours. For over a year, I had been emailing Marie on a regular basis, writing letters to her in jail, and calling her whenever I could find a working phone number. But not until this fall did she agree to an interview. And I can honestly say that it was one of the best interviews I’ve ever had the pleasure of participating in, and possibly ever will. After so many years of researching her, and listening to stories about her from other people, hearing Marie tell her story in her own words was amazing. Her flare for the dramatic is unmatched.
Now we’ve reached a point in the filmmaking process where the film has grown, and we need to raise money to complete production. It’s definitely scary to embark on a Kickstarter campaign! But we love this story, and we want to do it justice in the film. We’ve grateful for the support we’ve received so far and excited to say that we were recently written up in the metropolitan section of the Wall Street Journal. The reactions from readers of both the Kickstarter page and the Wall Street Journal piece have been incredibly encouraging. People who watch our Kickstarter video tell us that they can’t wait to see what happens next – they want to see this mystery solved! And so do we.
Martha Shane is a Brooklyn-based documentary filmmaker. From 2006 to 2008, she co-directed, produced, and co-edited the feature documentary Bi the Way, which had its premiere at the SXSW film festival in 2008 and debuted on MTV’s LOGO channel. More recently, Martha has been directing a documentary called After Tiller, as well as Make the People Happy, a documentary that follows New York novelty ragtime band the Xylopholks on a whirlwind tour of India. Both of those projects are now in post-production.
A life-long New Yorker, Dan Nuxoll grew up in Queens now lives and works in Brooklyn. He has been working with Rooftop Films since 1997 and has been Program Director there for more than 10 years. He has served on juries for Slamdance, SXSW, and the Independent Film Festival of Boston and developed partnerships with Hot Docs, SXSW, Camden International Film Festival, IFC, MoMA, Full Frame, MusisDoc Malmo, and many other organziations. On the rare occasions that Dan has time outside of his work for Rooftop, he works as a producer, composer, sound designer and director for films including the wildly entertaining feature documentary Kiss My Snake.