It doesn't matter how old your child gets. It's every parent's worst nightmare.
Gone: The Disappearance of Aeryn Gillern
is a heartbreaking documentary from the filmmaking duo of Gretchen and John Morning that follows the tale of a mother whose son disappears while working in Europe. Despite meeting unfathomable resistance from the government, this is one mother who refuses to give up searching for her son.
The mother is Kathryn Gilleran, a former police officer in upstate New York who retired to run her local ASPCA chapter. A 20-year police veteran who was widely respected and recognized, Kathryn's son was equally successful. Aeryn Gillern was living in Vienna and working for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization as a researcher. Aeryn had earned two master's degrees and had also been a Mr. Gay Austria, not surprising when you merely glance at the incredibly handsome and intelligent young man.
On the evening of October 29, 2007, Aeryn Gillern disappears under suspicious circumstances after having apparently visited a local bath house called Kaiserbründl, a known hangout for important societal members who wish to be more discreet about their homosexuality. Upon receiving the call about her son's disappearance, Kathryn promptly leaves for Vienna and upon her arrival is met with a local police force that appears almost stunningly unmotivated to investigate her son's disappearance and instead prefer to chalk it up as a suicide.
Of course, it seems incredibly likely that Gillern's death is a suicide. The young man had far too much going for him, and he'd just visited his mother in New York the previous month and gave absolutely no indication of physical or emotional distress. The very few witnesses willing to speak to Kathryn speak of her son's fleeing Kaiserbründl on the evening he disappeared in an obvious state of panic and that "look" of fear that far too often is followed by tragedy. Everywhere she turns, however, Kathryn is met by homophobic police and a disturbing lack of compassion that seemingly defines even the government's response to her situation. The American embassy? Worthless.
is most effective when Kathryn Gilleran is speaking. She's a captivating storyteller whose police background allows her to recall even the most minute details of her life, of her conversations and of her encounters with those in Vienna. It's devastating to watch her struggle, both because she is the mother of a young man who has disappeared and because she's a police woman who little by little begins to discover the obvious cover-ups being practiced by those who are supposed to serve and protect in Vienna.
is a blunt reminder about the harshness and potential dangers of living overseas, even in those places one might consider idyllic. Young Aeryn Gillern had fallen in love with the lifestyle and architecture in Vienna while also having developed a small group of friends, yet when it came down to it he lived in a land where homophobia was still strong and very much institutionalized. Whatever happened to Aeryn Gillern, there's virtually no one in Vienna who seems committed to discovering the truth other than Kathryn, the LGBT community and a few close peers from UNIDO.
doesn't work as well when the Morning's decide to add some artistic flair, an approach that only serves to lessen the dramatic impact the film rather than enhance it. It's an odd choice given the power of Kathryn Gilleran's words, but it doesn't ever distract enough that it will drive you away from this film.
After a successful film festival run, Gone
has been picked up for distribution by QC Cinema, the LGBT distrib arm of Breaking Glass Pictures. The film hits home video on July 3, 2012 and includes extras such as family home movies and a photo gallery. For more information, visit the Breaking Glass Pictures website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic