The treasure hunters

Tomas Leach on The Lure and the importance of mystery and adventure

by Jennie Kermode

"It's a genuinely wild landscape out there" - Tomas Leach Photo: Moxie Pictures

Every now and again, a documentarian stumbles across a subject so compelling that it would be well night impossible not to make a film about it. Such was the case for Tomas Leach when he read a newspaper article about the Fenn treasure, a chest of gold worth at least $1m apparently buried somewhere in the Rocky Mountains by art dealer Forrest Fenn, which had attracted thousands of so far unsuccessful treasure hunters. In the US to promote another film, he took the opportunity to visit Forrest to see if there was more to this than just a dramatic headline. He found an elusive character and a story with a lot more depth than he'd expected. His exploration of both became The Lure.

Forrest Fenn
Forrest Fenn Photo: Moxie Pictures

"I didn't want to make a film full of facts," he says. "There's no hard and fast this is true, this isn't true. It's a search for the meaning of storytelling. I realised quite early on that it was highly unlikely that anyone would find the treasure while we were filming - in fact, it was almost impossible that would happen - so I didn't want to make a film based around that. I thought, what would happen if we took the treasure out of the story? What would the film be about then? I wanted to make a film about how we reinvent ourselves searching for meaning through our endeavours.

"I felt like the story wasn't dependent on gold. For me it's about mystery. If I tried to answer too much I'd be defeating the point of what Forrest has done."

Connecting with treasure hunters was the hard part, he adds. "I worked through a couple of researchers and I reached out to people. People lead you to other people - that's always how it is. I spoke to more than a hundred treasure hunters. From the start I was very clear that I didn't want to make a film about wacky Americans or larger than life characters out in the hills with guns. I didn't want it to be about craziness. I was looking for people who had depth and fragility to them.

Amanda Fry and Paulina Logenbaugh
Amanda Fry and Paulina Logenbaugh Photo: Moxie Pictures

"There are four or five main characters and as far as gender goes they're pretty evenly split. There are actually quite a few women searchers and I think that's important because it brings a more rounded, human feeling. I didn't want it to be about rich white guys out in the woods playing games, I wanted to find people who were easy to empathise with, and not the more obvious men wearing khaki trousers thinking they're Indiana Jones."

Making the film was a serious physical challenge, he says, especially as filming was so spread out. "The story is huge. It sprawls across several states. It was really hard because it's a genuinely wild landscape out there. I mean, people get lost out there and die. There are all extremes of weather, there's the extreme altitude, and we wanted to follow the treasure hunters everywhere they went, so if they wanted to go on a five hour hike that included wading across a river, we had to do that too, with all of our equipment."

Did he find himself getting drawn in and wanting to become a treasure hunter too?

David ‘Desertphile’ Rice
David ‘Desertphile’ Rice Photo: Moxie Pictures

"On my first flight out there I started to read the book," he says, referring to Forrest's tome full of puzzles and oblique clues which supposedly point to where the treasure is buried. "I had to put it down and tell myself to stop. That's an excuse to find yourself lost up a hill, and we had a film to make. But when you're out on the trail it's exciting and you can't help but let it rub off on you, so you may take slightly longer to look around a rock than usual."

He's very pleased with how the film has been received at festivals. "I've actually had a tough time, on occasion, being programmed, but as soon as it's programmed it sells out. It's obvious what attracts people to this story, and what's enjoyable about it - it feels like an adventure. At the moment there are a lot of political documentaries and that's understandable given the state of where we are globally, but this is very deliberately not like that. I wanted to make something that was more like a Coen brothers romp than a Michael Moore documentary.

Katya ‘Wildcat’ Luce
Katya ‘Wildcat’ Luce Photo: Moxie Pictures

"There's a shortage of mystery today. It's much more fun believe in magic than not. We're so aware of everything today, we feel like we're so on top of things, we consume constant small bits of information and we over-share our lives but along the way we forget huge swathes. I think it's important to remember that we live in a world large parts of which are still completely wild and empty. You know, you can crash plane in New Mexico and not get found. You can walk out into the hills and not be seen again, and to me that's fascinating. We need that sense of mystery, that sense of scale, because life gets so boiled down and becomes too small."

The Lure is in UK cinemas from tomorrow, Friday 8 September.

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