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John and Gretchen Morning: Gone

What would you do if your adult son suddenly went missing in a foreign land? This intensely personal documentary explores Kathy Gilleran's heartbreaking search.

Gone is the intensely personal documentary about Kathy Gilleran, a retired New York policewoman whose adult son Aeryn suddenly disappeared in Vienna, Austria, in 2007. Married directors John and Gretchen Morning tell Kathy's story primarily through riveting interview sequences, in which she describes her struggle to confront homophobia, secrets, lies, and a potential conspiracy—all in a country foreign to her. Gone is a heartbreaking depiction of one woman, determined to uncover the truth, no matter how long it takes.




Tribeca: Please tell us a little about Gone. What inspired you to tell this story?

Gretchen: We first read about Aeryn’s disappearance and his mother’s efforts to find him in a local newspaper in Syracuse, NY.


John: Kathy’s struggle to find her son, combined with her experience as a veteran police officer, makes her a fascinating and powerful protagonist to follow.


Tribeca: Let’s talk logistics. How did you decide how you would tell the story, and what did your “shoot” entail?

Gretchen: Working with stories that involve interviews is always a challenge: how to shoot them, how to frame them, where to have the eye-line. We knew that we wanted a look that was stark and plain, so that Kathy’s presence was foremost in the frame and didn’t compete with the environment around her. We wanted the viewer to connect with Kathy directly and focus on the content of her words, as opposed to the background or an artistic style that would draw too much attention to itself.


John: Once we had Kathy’s interview, the next decision we had to make was how to tell the story visually. I mean, we knew we had an incredible interview, but for many months, that’s all we had. And like many filmmakers, we were constrained by budget. So, when Kathy returned to Vienna in 2009, we asked her to shoot some b-roll for us. We thought it would just be something temporary we could use until funding allowed for a bigger shoot. But what Kathy captured was so compelling that we decided to incorporate it as one of the main elements in the film. And then, once we partnered with Jim Butterworth and Daniel Chalfen of Naked Edge Films, we were able to hire a fantastic DP in Vienna, Atilla Boa, to shoot b-roll of Kathy and additional footage, which gave the film a great visual breadth.



Tribeca: Gone is an intense story without a real resolution. What do you want audiences to take away from the story? Are you hopeful it can effect some concrete closure for Kathy?

John: While Kathy has yet to find out Aeryn’s whereabouts, her spirit is unbroken. That’s what our film is about.


Gretchen: I think it does have a resolution. The Austrian authorities—to the highest reaches of the government—throw every impediment they can at Kathy, yet she persists. She’s not going to quit.  


And yes, John and I both hope our film will effect change.


Tribeca: What are your hopes for Gone at Tribeca? Do you hold out any hope that the case will be reopened?

John: Our hope is that many people see the film.


Gretchen: And that the truth will someday be known.


Tribeca: How intense was your relationship with Kathy? I imagine it was tough to keep a journalistic distance from such a personal story.

John: I am definitely not a journalist. So distance from the story wasn’t an issue. How to best serve the story was the trick.


Gretchen: And especially as an editor, I don’t think you can be distanced from a project. You need to immerse yourself in the story.     


Tribeca: As co-writer/directors, how did the two of you work together on GONE? How did you divvy up the responsibilities?

John: Once we had the interview, Gretchen and I broke the story structure together. Then, when we agreed on what our story was and how we were telling it, we collaborated on everything else, but one of us took the lead in each stage.
Gretchen: For instance, when I began editing, John directed. When we brought on our new editor, Joel Plotch, I worked most closely with Joel in the edit, while John tackled other producing duties and was able to keep a broader perspective on the cut. Making a film together as a married couple has been a great experience—it gave John a reason to get off the couch!


John: And it gave Gretchen an outlet for her nagging!


Tribeca: What's the craziest thing (or "lightning strikes" moment) that happened during production?

Gretchen: Our decision to partner with Jim Butterworth and Daniel Chalfen at Naked Edge Films, who have been an unending source of support, encouragement and experience.


John: Totally. I would also say that the moment that stands out for me was in our first interview with Kathy, when Gretchen asks Kathy what the first words are that come to mind when she thinks of her son. After a long moment’s pause, Kathy replies, “Gone.”  That unexpected response set the style and structure of the film more than anything else.




Tribeca: What's your advice for aspiring filmmakers? (Gretchen, particularly for women?)

Gretchen: Find a story that captures you unlike anything else, don’t wait for the perfect moment to begin working on it, and remember to ask for help when you need it.


John: Finish what you start.


Tribeca: Who are some of the documentary filmmakers who inspire you, and why?

Gretchen: Joe BerlingerBrother’s Keeper was shot very close to where we lived in New York, and his career path has been a touchstone for me. Kurt Kuenne for his passion and outrage. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman of Paragraph 175—the interviews are just so beautiful.


John: And I think Rory Karpf’s interviews in ESPN’s Tim Richmond: To the Limit were awesome. I also really love Henry Corra’s The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan. It was a huge inspiration for Gone.


Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead), who would it be?


Gretchen & John: Each other—we’ve hardly had a chance to talk about anything but the film in nearly three years.


Gretchen: But seriously, Errol Morris.


John: Edgar Wright.  


Tribeca: What piece of art (book/film/music/tv show/what-have-you) are you currently recommending to your friends most often?


Gretchen: Meniskus—a great band we heard while mixing our film at Coupe Studios in Boulder, Colorado.


John: My kids and I are loving Epic Mickey on the Wii.


Tribeca: What would your biopic be called?


Gretchen: “Priceline Across America”—an ode to our cross-country move to Los Angeles last year with three kids.


John: “Batman.”  I can dream, can’t I?  


Tribeca: What makes Gone a Tribeca must-see?


John: I don’t think there are many documentaries like Gone. The film puts the viewer right into the experience of a parent searching for her child in a foreign land. It’s a very primal story.


Gretchen: While Gone was born out of a terrible tragedy, it’s a reminder how precious justice is, and it’s a testament to how love can make us strong.


Find out where and when you can catch Gone at the Tribeca Film Festival.


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