I Touched All Your Stuff is an astonishing documentary centered on Chris “Goose” Kirk, a restless young man from Olympia, Washington, who sought out adventure by heading to Colombia to see hippos that the infamous narcotraficante Pablo Escobar smuggled out of Africa. While in Latin America, he meets a Japanese-Colombian girl known as “V,” and falls in love. They are soon involved in a long-distance relationship that breeds suspicion about various shady behaviors involving sums of money and questionable friends. Chris then investigates—thoroughly.
Curiously, Chris narrates almost the entirety of I Touched All Your Stuff from a prison in Brazil. Directors Maíra Bühler and Matias Mariani let their imprisoned subject recount his story directly to the camera, illustrating it with images and files sourced from his computer’s hard drive. But what exactly is true here? The film posits that it may not matter. What makes the film so riveting is the filmmakers’ deliberate narrative construction of Chris’s storytelling. This portrait of a man is fascinating precisely because it will frustrate viewers who want the truth.
Gary M. Kramer Let’s start with a simple question about your complex film: How did you learn of Chris Kirk’s story?
Maíra Bühler We first met him while researching a documentary [She Dreamed that I Died] about foreign prisoners in Brazil. We were in a jail, talking with two hundred guys, and they would tell us their stories.
Matias Mariani This prison Chris was in was very well run. It housed only foreigners, so there was no organized crime inside—just mostly drug mules. These were not high-violence criminals, which actually frustrated Chris because he was in a Brazilian jail and never saw a fight!
MB So, we met all these prisoners and told them to tell us about their lives, but Chris was the only one who asked us about ours. Then he said, “I’m not telling my story unless you have twelve hours to listen to me.”
MM We had a tight shooting schedule, but we took the bait, and that forms the main interview in the film.
MB That was the first time we ever saw him.
GMK Another simple question: Why was Chris called “Goose?”
MM He loved Top Gun and played the video game, but was always second best—never Maverick, always Goose.
GMK When we first see Chris, he is smiling, almost happy. That seems disingenuous for a man in a foreign prison. What do you make of Chris’s smile?
MM Chris sees himself as a writer, even though he hasn’t published anything. That provides a way to understand him. His idol is Hunter S. Thompson, and his method of coming up with stories is to live through them—that’s his creative process. And he sees himself in that light, living the story, then writing it. He sees his life as a narrative achievement. That’s why he was so happy to tell his story. He’s been working on it and rehearsing it for a very long time. He would get notes to tell this part faster, and he worked on it, editing it like a film.
MB He stutters very badly, but when he tells his story he doesn’t.
MM We wanted to show him stuttering, but whenever the camera was on he stopped. When the camera was off he did.
GMK What prompted you to tell Chris’s story after doing She Dreamed that I Died?
MM Our first film was also about people telling their life stories in prison—
MB But the difference is that it was more like people telling their stories of prison, talking about that experience.
MM We wanted this film to be the opposite. He’s in jail, but there’s this whole world he captured in his hard drive, and it explodes the limits of where he is now. Prison life is boring. His life was exciting.
GMK What I like most is how his entire world is vividly rendered, though much of what we see is Chris sitting at a table, telling a story. It’s like Spalding Gray’s Swimming to Cambodia.
MM We didn’t know that film, but it’s Chris’s favorite. When we saw it we knew why!
GMK There is a metaphor in the film—that Chris is like Pinocchio. He just wants to be real. How do you interpret that idea or image?
MM The first image most folks have of Pinocchio is not that he’s a liar, but rather of his innocence. The goal in the beginning of the film is to show Chris being very naïve. Then in the end, where he is more hardcore, you see his other side. We thought Pinocchio was an interesting image that had both of these qualities in it.
GMK You incorporate photos, videos, Skype sessions, text messages, instant messaging, news footage, and interviews into the film. What decisions did you make about assembling the materials and telling Chris’s story the way you did?
MM This aspect of the film was difficult. We had very little raw material to work with, but we had Chris’ hard drive. Everything was there. He was good with logging stuff in, and that was our raw material. The footage, for us, was his videos or photos, texts, and so forth. We dived into that pool. Instead of going into raw footage, we went into the hard drive. It was our solution, narratively speaking.
MB The mystery was in that hard drive. We couldn’t sleep while trying to understand all the pieces of the story from its fragments. This sense of mystery was the way we made the film, and not just in the editing. It was with us all the time.
MM We’re very interested in representing how we spend so much time in front of screens. That’s presented in the film. It’s important to think of language to represent that.
GMK You deliberately made V visually mysterious. Did you feel that her voice, her image—basically, her side of the story—could influence the viewer? There is talk about “her logic versus his logic” when it comes to truth and bad behavior.
MB We decided to keep V out of the film early in the editing. We wanted her to be a projection of his. We didn’t want it to be investigation-oriented, but rather a film that tells a story, that puts it together narratively. It’s not about the truth. It’s Chris’ point of view and how he constructs his story. Going after her would be another film. We never wanted to reveal her.
MM At first, we thought of comparing the different versions of the story, or extracting something from Chris.
MB But we were not interested in her as a real character, but as a fictional character of his world.
MM If we went after her, the film would be more about the truth.
GMK Do you think Chris suffered from hubris—in that he thought he could handle V and anything she did? Her behavior would send up red flags for most people, but he kept following her, loving her.
MM He framed it as logical, but it wasn’t. He knew V was trouble, but he couldn’t help it. He was interested in her as a beautiful woman, but he was also falling in love, as a stranger in a strange land. He was “living the dream.” It’s like colonization in a way.
MB If he could rule her, he could figure out who she was. And he had a desire to control everything, but he couldn’t. She would always escape, and he, with his personality, was interested in this kind of game.
MM We didn’t meet her, and we never wanted to.
GMK Did V have anything to do with Chris’ arrest? You don’t explicitly connect the dots.
MB We tried not to make that a focal point. It’s about the affair and that growing obsession, not his arrest. He was arrested for drug smuggling, which is the crime he accuses her of doing. But it’s is a mystery, even to us. He didn’t want to discuss that because his case was still pending in the Brazilian judicial system. But we know what his case was from what you see in the film—bags of cocaine in a fake bottom suitcase.
MM We always felt there was a dark side to him. We didn’t believe everything he told us, but that’s not part of the film.
GMK I think it’s unimportant as to what actually happened. Chris tells a great story, and you do a great job telling his story. What was your intention in making I Touched All Your Stuff?
MM I think it has to do with an obsessive nature and narrative, how these two concepts talk to each other. We were obsessed, too, going over his hard drive, looking for things we didn’t see before—which parallels his obsession with V. I think that’s our process and his as well.
MB We had to tell the story. We had no option. We were so inside of it.
MB And that’s why I Touched All Your Stuff was such a great title. He didn’t see the film until it was ready, so we were touching all his stuff, and he did the same thing to her.
GMK You said Chris is “distanced from himself,” and include footage that suggests this. How do you see him—as a vulnerable American, a con artist? Is he innocent or shady? Does he, like V, use what he has to get what he wants? You shrewdly let folks draw their own conclusions. What are your own thoughts?
MM We disagreed about him, which was very good for the film. I trusted him more in the beginning, and she didn’t. I had a strong support for him. That was good, and it was a dynamic that helped us a lot. He would say something, and between the two of us, we made a determination as to whether to trust him.
MB My first impression, as a Latin American woman, was about him trying to get control—and control of the story. It was strange for me. He was talking about his logic, not hers. As a woman, I feel I understand her, but he is the stranger. When we disagreed, we used the conflict. I didn’t like him the first time I saw him. I don’t trust him, but I can still have fun talking to him. And I need to respect him to make the film, and I do.
MM He wants to be seen as all-American, and as a unique guy who had a rough time and made some bad choices. That makes him more curious.
GMK Is the truth a trap? Do you think Chris is telling you, the filmmakers—and by extension us, the audience—what he thinks we want to hear? Is it better to just believe the lies because they make for a much better story?
MB He’s telling the story that he wants to hear. He’s very worried about himself.
MM He’s in control of the narrative of V’s story. He’s the only one uttering the words, editing and creating it. But the film questions that narrative. The flow shows him as a good storyteller, or it goes against that—as when other people are interviewed and say things he might not be happy they shared. The stuff we found in the hard drive—he would mention it, but the reality was a bit different. The V narrative is a part of the film, but the film is larger than that. It’s about more than a guy who falls in love with a girl and has an obsessive relationship. His narrative is his coping mechanism. It’s a turbulent, complicated life he’s had, so what he took out of it was this story. It made it worthwhile in his mind.
GMK What can folks learn from this story? Is I Touched All Your Stuff a cautionary tale about privacy and trust?
MM People want lessons. A lot of it deals with privacy. The way for Chris to control things was to know everything V did. Every email, everywhere she went, et cetera. That has interesting aspects in relation to the American government and privacy. He needed to know everything about her, and we went beyond his narrative—into his hard drive—to know everything about him.
MB He’s writing a book and wants to tell his story. We’re going to be his characters in the book.
GMK What did you think of his monologue about wanting a life free from boredom, the mundane, and the routine. He says he wants crazy adventures? Did he get what he deserved? Is the good story worth all he went through?
MB When he returned home, he went back to the same things that made him feel at home. In a sense, I don’t know that it was worth it.
MM That monologue was taken from his blog. It felt like an insight—not the text itself, about how Americans seek adventure, running away from a nine-to-five job, which is a cliché. But he saw himself like that—as living a life that is not boring. But boredom is an important part of life. Chris said that there was one bathroom in prison that he never went to. This was deliberate. “One day when I’m really bored I can have something new to do, see something I have not seen.” It’s absurd, but it tells a lot about him.