New Documentary DTF Exposes Weird, Wild, And Debauched World Of International Pilots
As he found himself half-conscious on a Las Vegas bed, with a recently used rubber vagina being rubbed against his face and a drunken lunatic pilot cackling in his ear, Al Bailey must have wondered where it all went wrong – and if it ever had a chance of going right in the first place.
Al had set out to make a documentary about his friend, a widowed pilot finding love on Tinder. Instead, he ended up documenting ‘an unending stag do’ with a man who was more interested in alcohol, sex, and making fools of Al and his crew than in looking for love.
This is the story of DTF, an audacious fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows filmmaker Al Bailey and his pilot ‘friend’ Christian (not his real name) on an 18-month journey around the world, nominally in the hopes of finding a partner for Christian.
Unfortunately, what starts off as a well-intended quest soon turns into a much darker tale, as Christian’s addictive and outlandish behaviour begins to spiral, testing the two men’s friendship to its limit, and raising the question, ‘How well do you really know your friends?’
It all began – as so many good ideas do – in a pub, Al told UNILAD. Specifically, while drinking with some pilot friends, where a discussion about Tinder and the appeal it held for those living a transitory lifestyle sparked an idea in his brain: could a testosterone-fuelled airline pilot actually find love via the world of dating apps?
It’s really cliched to say, but I like telling stories, even if it’s just telling a story to my kid, but I’ve always had that in me. So when I heard these pilots talking, I had this genuine romanticised idea about wanting to see if people could find love on Tinder, so that was the initial nucleus of the idea.
And, of course, pilots are travelling all the time, and I knew plenty of them, so making one the subject of the documentary seemed a good idea, and there was a genuine sentiment of can we help someone find love [laughs] – but it didn’t quite turn out that way, obviously.
Of course, once he’d had the idea, the question was: who would be the subject of the documentary? Enter Christian, a recently widowed pilot who’d been friends with Al for years. As Al put it, Christian had always been something of a ‘lovable rogue’, describing him as ‘that friend we all have’, the one who’s always up for a laugh but might not necessarily know where to draw the line.
Al admitted the choice was slightly strategic. Knowing Christian’s fondness for ‘a good time’, he predicted his pilot friend would bring some ‘drama’ to proceedings as Al was determined that his documentary would not become a parody of First Dates; he wanted to keep the film real and raw – he got exactly that.
From the moment they arrived in their first destination, Christian clearly had little interest in finding love. Instead, he would make fun of Al and his clear discomfort at some of the situations they were in, drink to excess, and try to hide from the documentary crew despite agreeing to appear in the film.
It was a pattern of behaviour that would escalate throughout the film, with Christian hedonistically indulging his every vice like a modern-day Dorian Gray at the expense of Al, ultimately culminating in a violent exchange between the two men in a Denver Airport car park.
Looking back on things now, Al is confident that Christian had little interest in finding love. Instead, he’s convinced his friend saw the film as an opportunity to take him on a ride, and expose Al to a world of vice he hoped would corrupt him.
As you see in the piece, there’s an ego there that wants to be fed and I wasn’t initially aware of that; I think that’s what enticed him to take part rather than the genuine idea of finding love. I don’t think [finding love] was ever his goal, he was always very resistant about talking about it in the film – that’s why there’s so little evidence of it in the movie.
He was always off doing his own thing, and that was taking us in directions we didn’t want to take the doc. It was almost like he was trying to rewrite where we were trying to take it, and although it doesn’t play like that in the film, every time we were coming back to the hotel and brainstorming how to get it back on track.
[Christian] had his own aim on the doc, and it was to make me look bad and himself look cool. I think it’s an extension of certain men who, when on a lad’s holiday or a stag do, try and get the ‘innocent’ one in trouble. It’s just pathetic behaviour, and it’s intriguing because you just wonder what’s going through this guy’s head.
However, Christian’s attempt to corrupt Al didn’t work, and if he thought DTF would make him look cool, he was sadly mistaken.
The film presents Christian as both a tragic figure and a contemptible one. His treatment of women is reprehensible – his attempts to prostitute a random woman on Nanny Day in Hong Kong with the promise of a shower stands out as one of his more deplorable acts – as is the way he teases and attempts to bully Al, even going so far as to drug him at one point.
But for all his bravado, it’s clear Christian is a lonely figure desperate for the approval of the documentary crew. He treats them like friends on a lad’s holiday, plying them with drinks whenever he can and playing up to them, desperate for a laugh.
Christian’s need to be liked is perhaps most evident in one tense scene in San Diego, where Al confronts him about his behaviour – he’d been thrown out of the Hard Rock Hotel in his underpants after getting paralytically drunk the night before – and threatens to pull the plug on the whole documentary.
Rather than relishing pressing Al’s buttons, he’s clearly put out by his friend’s anger and is obsequious, apologising profusely for his actions and promising to behave in future. It’s a promise he’d fail to keep, but it’s an interesting point in the documentary that lays bare his need to be liked.
It’s after this tense conversation that DTF’s focus shifts from ‘finding Christian love’ to trying to find him some redemption, as Al looks for a way to save their rapidly deteriorating friendship. Redemption, however, was beyond Christian at this point, whose behaviour after San Diego, if anything, gets worse.
Which leads us back to Vegas, the film’s penultimate location, and the hotel room where Al, half-conscious, has a used Fleshlight rubbed in his face by Christian. Words truly don’t do the sequence justice; it’s extremely disturbing, to be frank, and stands out as one of the film’s most shocking moments.
It begins with the crew in surprisingly high spirits as Al and Christian enjoy a night in a Vegas casino, and it’s one of the few moments in the film you see why these two men could ever have been friends. Things take a turn, however, when Christian drugs Al.
Barely able to talk and clearly inebriated, Al is then taken to a strip club where Christian, still trying to corrupt his friend, orders Al lap dances, clearly relishing in the control he has over his intoxicated friend and fully revealing a maliciousness we’ve only caught glimpses of so far.
Eventually, Al is taken back to the hotel room, where the aforementioned incident with the sex toy takes place, and it becomes too much for the documentary crew – specifically the cameraman, who attacks Christian. The next day Christian refuses to apologise for the whole thing.
‘It was at this point I knew we were beyond redemption,’ Al told UNILAD, and the crew would only go on one more trip after Vegas, to Denver, where once again Christian deliberately pushed Al’s buttons. Unfortunately for Christian, Al was at this point beyond caring, and one well-placed punch ended their friendship forever.
For those looking for an explanation for Christian’s behaviour, I’m afraid the film presents no real answers. Al said at first he excused some of his friend’s behaviour by choosing to believe that he’d been changed by grief, but the more time he spent with him, the clearer it became that wasn’t the case.
I imagine grief has to have changed him in some way, it would change anyone, but now I don’t think you’ll ever get to know the real Christian. I can’t see how you’d ever find out if his actions are driven by grief, because I don’t think he’d ever let you in to find that out.
Throughout the shoot there was almost never a chink of vulnerability. There was one point when he got really drunk and I thought for a moment [he was grieving], but even then it didn’t feel genuine.
He was saying the right words but it didn’t feel like he was letting me in, it just felt like bullshit, which sounds harsh because I’ve never been in that situation, but the way he came across and acted didn’t make me empathise with him, as harsh as that sounds.
The only time Christian ever felt ‘real’, Al says, is when he was talking about his job. At these moments he seemed ‘controlled and knowledgeable’, which will come as a relief to those who were worried about Christian’s conduct as a pilot. DTF, however, does raise questions about the behaviour of pilots while they’re abroad.
In fact, Al showed the film to a group of pilots and said most weren’t shocked by Christian’s antics at all; indeed, many recognised the places Christian took the documentary crew. They even met several pilots while abroad who – while not as wild – definitely identified with Christian’s behaviour and personality.
The crew even managed to get a few to talk on camera, but they couldn’t get clearance in the end to include the interviews. Al told UNILAD, however, they confirmed that the type of behaviour seen in DTF isn’t limited to just Christian.
As for Christian? Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, contact between the two has been sporadic, but Al has few fond feelings for his former friend, describing the whole thing as ‘pathetic’.
I feel the whole thing’s a bit pathetic, and maybe it’s because I don’t understand the grief side of things, but I struggle to find empathy for someone who’s trying to take the piss out of you. I feel sorry for his situation, but he’s a bit pathetic.
If I was to describe DTF, I’d say it was like Tiger King but with pilots. It’s also a shocking glimpse into the life of a man whose deplorable actions are so absurd, and at times so wretched, that you can’t help but watch.
Ultimately, however, I worry that such a simplistic description does the film a disservice. DTF is a documentary that defies description, as Christian’s outlandish behaviour needs to be seen to be truly believed.
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