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A woman sits in front of the camera. The backdrop is black, with a faint streak of blue light. It is the same color as the woman’s deep Irish eyes. When we first see her, she looks hardened, or perhaps uncomfortable in front of the camera. But then we hear her story and we realize that what we’re witnessing is rage.
Her name is Kathy Gilleran. She’s a twenty-year veteran police officer from Cortland, New York. Kathy tells us how much she loved being a police officer, helping those in her community on what was often a very bad day. And we believe her. She looks like the kind of cop you’d want by your side if the shit hit the fan. What sticks with Kathy most from her two decades on the force is the adage, “There but by the grace of God go I.”
But for the past four years, Kathy hasn’t seen much grace in her life. On October 29, 2007, her 34 year-old son, Aeryn, vanished in Vienna, Austria.
We first read about Aeryn Gillern in a local Syracuse, New York newspaper nearly ten months after he disappeared in Vienna. We contacted his mother, Kathy, who lived only thirty minutes from our home in New York, and asked if she would be willing to be interviewed on camera. Our intention was to get a fuller understanding of Aeryn’s case, since so little was written about it. We were uncertain exactly what the story was, and whether or not we would choose to pursue it.
We interviewed Kathy a few months later in December 2008. We didn’t know it then, but this was the first time she was revealing the full extent of her search for Aeryn. Even her closest friends didn’t know. But even though we knew we were onto an extraordinary story, we were unsure how to approach it. We thought we were pursuing a narrative about a missing man, but after meeting Kathy, what we realized was that GONE was really about a mother’s ongoing struggle to find her son amidst a surreal tale of lies, intimidation and cruelty.
And so, as we began to shoot GONE in Central New York and Vienna, Austria, we were guided by a simple, defining premise: to immerse viewers in Kathy’s mesmerizing, personal quest for the truth.