Zachary Levy's dëbut feature, Strongman, tells of a larger-than-life story writ small. The film had its premiere at 2009's Slamdance and won the prize for best documentary. So why do so few people know about this film, which is one of the most powerful and affecting vérité stories to come out of the US in recent years? While I had certainly heard of the film and knew many people who loved it, this is one of those instances where, perhaps, the film will have a slower build, finding its audience slowly, there for discovery. Levy and his main protagonist, Stanley Pleskin, aka, Stanless Steel, The Strongest Man in the World at Bending Steel and Metal, have a profound rapport which only grew deeper as the two shot together over the course of several years. For some great insight into that aspect, and as an appropriate companion piece to the following chat with Levy, read Michael Tully's review at Hammer to Nail here: "In showing one man's tirelsss quest to wrap the tips of his monstrous fingers around an even somewhat tiny piece of the American dream, Levy has produced a heartbreaking drama that would make Eugene O'Neill proud."
I only saw Strongman but a couple of months ago when Cian Smyth programmed it for the Maysles Brothers Competition at the Belfast Film Festival in Ireland. I was positively floored by its impact on me and unable to shake the film from my head, I really wanted to speak to its maker. Happily, Levy complied:
Still in Motion (SIM): It’s interesting how certain films cross your radar at certain times. It seems like I might be discovering this particular film a bit late?
Zachary Levy (ZL): [laughing] Yes and no. I mean, it feels like in a lot of ways, it’s a largely undiscovered film; at least it feels that way to me. It’s been out there for a while although still largely unknown.
SIM: The second time I watched Strongman, this strange analogy emerged for me. Throughout the whole film, our hero, Stan, always receives a fairly underwhelming reaction to whatever he does—most oftentimes from the people closest around him, his girlfriend, Barbara, his family. All the larger-than-life things he’s trying to do, his ambition and drive to be the best are on display and nobody’s ever paying that much attention. This speaks to the pace and dedication in which you tell this story. I realize how difficult it is to create pieces like this since it’s not really in fashion to do so, and perhaps the reaction from the “marketplace” only emphasizes that. But it’s also so rare to see such a complete and dedicated relationship on screen as the one you have with your main protagonist. Tell me about your initial draw to Stan. What did you see in him that resonated so strongly for you?
ZL: It was a gut feeling more than anything. Certainly the contradictions and the complexity in him were pretty apparent when I met him. There was also a great innocence and vulnerability, although those aren’t exactly the right words. His openness and other things that were all in very tight proximity to one another was interesting. I connected with all that quickly. That’s just at the character level. I felt he was a character that could carry a story and one I cared about, someone who resonated on a personal level so the film could be carried beyond the clichés of how people might choose stories.
It seems to me that filmmakers, way too often these days, are choosing things on their commercial merit, a story they’ve seen before. On some level, too many people, I think, are choosing to make films that are, basically, copies of other films they’ve seen. It’s always hard to articulate why some stories resonate for certain people and others don’t. But I did feel like it had those elements where it would resonate for many people. However, that wasn’t the motivation for making the film.
SIM: What sets this film apart is, of course, the relationship between you and Stan. You allow us to hear you, but we never see you in frame. But you do manage to be quite a forceful presence since he does turn to you for validation many times, especially during the more stressful moments he’s going through. I think most people can feel that kind of authentic bond; it automatically makes you someone to be trusted, both by your protagonists and by your viewers. There’s also no ambivalence on Stan’s part to being filmed and the sense that a documentary subject might be feeling less than secure always makes me a bit nervous. I felt, in this case, that this documentation of his life and what was happening was often a lifeline for him, helping him to articulate all the things he thinks deeply about. Both Barbara and Stan struggle with words and the way they’ve resolved that is to parrot what they’ve heard on TV, from books, from other sources outside themselves. They don’t have the words so they re-purpose things to express their own feelings and points of view. It made me realize that the ability, or inability, to do that carries a lot of weight.
ZL: Yes, you’ve hit on something very few have really noticed and that is that as much as the film is about strength, both inner and outer, it’s also a film very much about language. Literally, Stan is looking for an announcer the entire film. That’s the film. And Barbara, too—she’s also looking for an announcer and her sister, for the most part, plays that role. In Stan’s case, by picking Barbara to speak for him, he’s chosen a person who is largely silent in a lot of ways. She has an extremely firm and strong voice when one strips back all the layers, but she doesn’t have a lot of confidence in it. Stan can also say some pretty profound and deeply true things but he doesn’t trust that anyone will understand him. That tension, between the things we speak and the things we are silent about, that desire to be heard, is a huge part of the film.
SIM: Concurrently with all those individual struggles, there is a very unique and very touching love story you capture between Stan and Barbara. It sneaks up on you, the depth to which they can relate to one another, even though there are aspects of their relationship that are troubled given the way in which they have to deal with Barbara’s sister’s interference. In fact, Barbara’s sister’s role in this drama is symbolic in a lot of ways as a physical manifestation of the conflicts between Stan and Barbara. She was, in fact, the only one that seemed exceedingly uncomfortable in front of your camera and expressed as much. She acts as some kind of weird Greek chorus, commentating on the “action” in their household.
ZL: The other part of it, too, is that both Barbara and her sister are much more concerned about image than the other subjects. Stan cares about the image in terms of his showmanship and his ideas about that, the presentation. For him, what’s more important is something deeper than that, something more internal. He’s not sure if Barbara has that or not, or understands who he is. “Do you really get me?”, he seems to always be asking her. That element of image does play a part in their individual relationships to the camera.
SIM: Well, really the only time we get to see Stan shine in that aspect of showmanship is on the British game show and that comes very early in the film. He’s such a natural showman, as if he was born to do that. He loves the camera and it loves him back in that instance. The audience is with him right away—he tells them he needs them. What’s interesting in terms of the dramatic structure, is that you start with something like that where many directors would end on that note. What follows, instead, is a pretty relentless slide. One of the things Stan says after doing that show—and he’s kind of pissed off at the quality of acts that are also on there—is “You show craftsmanship.” But right after that, he also says, “You show realism,” as if the two, somehow, go hand in hand. It’s such an amazing metaphor for documentary filmmaking.
ZL: Particularly for this film.
SIM: How long did you shoot with Stan?
ZL: I would say the active shooting took about three years. The story arc you see in the film represents roughly a year and a half of filming. I went back for several more years—it was a fairly long time to make this. In some ways, an embarrassingly long time; it depends on how you look at it. Perhaps other filmmakers would be impressed and wince at the same time. I just wanted to capture anything that was changing dramatically as long as there was room to do that. The editing of the film happened after all the shooting was finished. There were about 135 shooting days over the course of the primary three years. With any kind of documentary filmmaking, but particularly with this kind of documentary filmmaking, there’s a lot about it that has the element of a fishing trip. You have to be willing to sit by the river for a day or two and nothing really happens. I had never filmed anyone, however, where at the end of the day, I had so much footage that was usable. There often were three scenes at the end of a day that could have been in the finished film. It came to 230 hours of footage. Which is, admittedly, a lot, but these days you do see people shooting 400 to 500 hours. Effectively, I think you lose so much when you’re shooting in that range. There’s the risk of missing something essential in the editing room because you have so much material to sort through.
SIM: Contextually, so much of your shooting nonverbally illustrates some pretty profound statements in relation to Stan’s story, which is a very American story—a larger-than-life guy in a larger-than-life culture, a culture that consumes everything in its path.
ZL: Well, Stan’s world was a very hard world in which to shoot. What I mean here is in a physical sense, leaving aside the other emotional things. The kitchen downstairs in his mother’s house where his grandmother lives was tricky. There are these ropes from which they hang wet laundry [laughter]. These laundry lines inside the kitchen are eight feet off the ground. There’s horrible boom shadow in that room, anyhow, and with the ropes and everything, it becomes really difficult to maneuver.
But one thing that is useful when shooting people for a while is that you get to really know their habits and actions, behaviors they repeat regularly. When I’ve taught cinematography—or documentary making since it’s a storytelling lesson as much as one about cinematography—I always tell people that whenever you’re shooting vérité, one thing to really pay attention to are these predictable or repeating behaviors. If you pay attention and your eyes are open, you’ll see a lot. Stan would always sit in the same chair or Barbara would. I could begin to anticipate where I should situate myself after a while. You become more comfortable using these things as storytelling devices and to make your work a bit easier. But you do miss things; it’s inevitable. Sometimes they are things that seem incredibly important. But I think that anything that’s important in life comes back, not necessarily in the same way that you missed, but it does come back and I learned that over and over during the process of making this film. The confidence in the storytelling comes from not worrying so much about what you missed or what you lost because they will reappear in some other shape.
SIM: Speaking of that, do you want to know my favorite scene in the film?
SIM: I couldn’t tell you why this affected me so deeply, but I felt it was really when I totally connected to Barbara. Stan, Barbara and another guy are sitting in his truck at night and the only light is coming from the light inside the car and the dashboard. The guys are totally wasted and Stan is in an angry mood but trying to make himself feel better by rocking out to a song, singing at the top of his lungs right into Barbara’s face who’s sitting beside him. It’s a scene where everything is just sitting on the edge of some precipice; everything’s at stake. The shooting is extraordinary considering your space limitations but you get an awful lot of great stuff in close-up, great reaction shots, particularly of Barbara’s face. And then there’s a point where you can only see her eyes and the look in them is indescribably sad and bewildered, a look of sheer entrapment. It’s like she’s having some weird flashback to high school and just completely staggered that life is repeating itself in a nightmarish déjà vu.
This is one of those scenes—and there are a lot of them—where it plays out for quite a long time, much longer than most directors would choose to let them run, thus leading to your longer running time than the average feature doc these days. Usually, seventy-five, eighty minutes and you’re out.
ZL: That drives me crazy, that obligation to “proper” length because I have to tell you, if anything, I think this film might be too short. The structure of the film probably works best at two hours and ten minutes. It doesn’t actually feel any longer at that length; it just breathes a little bit more. But that’s a hard length to put on a shelf. If this weren’t my first film, I probably would have had more confidence to do that. There is this unspoken pressure that a feature documentary has to be 90 minutes or less. It’s death to good filmmaking.
SIM: Yes, but there are many feature docs that don’t warrant their length and seem way too long and indulgent, so I don’t know the answer to that. What sets this film apart is the pacing of most of the scenes and this is a strong editing choice. You don’t cut away with abandon; in fact, quite the opposite. By letting things play out, you create a really profound connection for a viewer with these characters. You catch those moments when they’re not actively performing or doing anything, really. This is a rare thing since most pieces are edited with that eye blink pace that gives me a headache. You allow us to really look and observe. With your filmmaking choices, you were saying something about that.
ZL: Yes, absolutely. There are a lot of things to say about that. So much of traditional film story is about change, transformation. In a lot of ways, that kind of profound change is a fictional device. Major change in who we are doesn’t happen in one moment or several moments strung together. Or by just a surface change in one’s appearance or what have you. The problem may somehow be worse in documentary filmmaking these days than in fiction—this squeezing in of these kinds of forced story arcs which create a phony sense of storytelling change. We don’t see a lot of change in Stan and Barbara. But your understanding of who these people are is changing. The change that’s happening is the internal changes the viewer is experiencing and that’s exciting when the film works on that level. A lot of audiences don’t want that, or are ready for that; they don't go to the movies to experience that. A lot of people would be fine if the whole film concentrated on Stan’s trip to the UK to do that TV show.
SIM: Placed at the end, of course, since it’s his triumphant moment, so to speak.
ZL: But it’s just the beginning of the film. I’m starting there from a filmmaking point of view very intentionally; it's a very precise choice. We’ve all seen that other story before, many times. But, yes, you’re right, they’re not the choices many others would have made. I like to think that most people who see it will have the same type of experience you did where they engage deeper and deeper as the story goes on. That’s what I hope for.
It’s funny, Stan was watching the film not so long ago. He’s seen it a number of times. I asked him if he wanted to go outside for a bit and he said, "No, Zach, it’s involving!" [laughter] He got totally reengaged with it as an audience member and got involved as if he were watching other people.
SIM: That’s part of what’s so fascinating about him. More than most people, he has a really wide-ranging perspective for such a small-town, backwoods Jersey boy. I notice in most autodidacts, there is an ability to focus that’s pretty intense. Stan is so focused on his goals and dreams almost to the exclusion of everything else. And when that focus is broken by what he considers to be an interference of some sort, he breaks down quite easily. It’s so easy to make fun of that in a way, and even though there are lots of humorous moments specifically because of that, he’s for real.
I think of that strange scene in WalMart where he’s waiting for Barbara to finish shopping and some kids come to stand around to see what you guys are doing considering you have a camera trained on him. His face flushes with pride because someone is giving him that much attention; his life is interesting enough to warrant that. He’s getting so much out of the experience of being filmed, even more than you’re getting from filming him and that’s not such a common occurrence. His true lack of self-consciousness is a real asset to a filmmaker. Tell me a bit about your editing process for this long-term project.
ZL: Well, unfortunately, as I mentioned briefly earlier, I didn’t edit as I went along. Part of the problem was that I shot part of it on digibeta. I used to work as a freelance cameraman for several people and I knew someone who had a digibeta camera. A guy named Vic Losick used to have a camera rental business and he gave me a camera to use and told me that if I ever got money for the film, I could pay him back. Of course then I didn’t know how long the film was going to take. At the time, there weren’t a lot of 16 x 9 cameras out there so it made a lot of sense to shoot with that. I thought I would shoot for six months and then be able to get some money to complete the film. And that never happened [laughs] so I had all these digibeta tapes on a shelf and no way to watch them. In essence, I was shooting blind while I was making the film. There was an element of not really knowing what I had even though I did, essentially, have everything in my head, what I was getting and not getting. I didn’t start editing until five years after the initial shoot.
SIM: Did that make a lot of the earlier footage fresh for you?
ZL: Yes it did, but it was also terrifying. When I’m watching my own raw footage, I’m seeing very clearly every day’s shoot. I see not only the actual footage but am also remembering everything that had gone into that day—from whether or not I could get a sound person that day or arrange the rental car or pick up the equipment—all the mess of production day in and day out for years, really. It was a result of not having money so every day was a struggle just to get to the point of actually shooting. I also remember the things that were happening in my life at the time. When I’m looking at the footage, it’s almost like being in therapy [laughs]. I’m seeing all the choices I made and sometimes that’s hard. After so much time not seeing the footage, seeing it was often quite scary in some ways. It was exciting, as well. I could feel how alive the film felt for the first time.
SIM: Who helped you out the most during that time of going through all that footage and settling in to assemble it?
ZL: It was really just showing people I trusted the footage and gauging their reactions. That was really helpful. Not everyone got what I was doing. I showed a lot of people. I probably talked to fifty editors in New York, at least. One person told me that he thought that Stan didn’t have a really expressive face. I knew right away that was not the right person for me since I can’t think of anyone I know that’s more expressive than Stan. But it wasn’t just professionals I would show it to; I showed many friends who aren’t filmmakers. It was a process of finding the people that did connect to the work since that was my audience. Luckily, the people I liked the most liked what I was doing and that was reassuring. One of the biggest challenges of being a documentary filmmaker, especially one that works pretty much solo, is that it’s difficult to discern when you’re in the vacuum by yourself and when you’re not. That was a challenge for me throughout the process. But every encouraging word—any encouraging word, really—got me to the next day and then the next. But from day one, there was a part of me that believed so deeply in this. It was something that took hold of me and I wasn’t going to let go. It goes back to what you were saying before about how so much of this film is about documentary filmmaking itself.
SIM: Yes, especially because your story arc ends with the realization that these two people have found one another to be much more of a support system than they had supposed and that Barbara, somehow, does find her voice since she does the best intro ever for Stan at the very end of the film. It is a really lovely moment, so playful and alive. They even do a role-reversal of sorts, which is hilarious.
ZL: Throughout the film, I’m trying to play with this tension of what an audience expects from a movie and what they would feel is “real life” in any kind of traditional way. That’s why the film doesn’t end at the Hollywood moment when they kiss. It ends thirty seconds later.
SIM: The post-Hollywood moment then.
ZL: Their lives are not magically fixed in one moment but they understand one another more. And perhaps then, we can understand ourselves a bit more. We might see the roles or the parts that we’re playing. But again, it all comes down to the audience and how they’re reacting, especially if you’re not presenting the Hallmark card variety story arc. It’s way too easy to write half sentences in your filmmaking if you expect that your audience’s needs are quite basic and they don’t need or want any more substance than that. To serve up familiar emotions with the accompanying visuals allows for a pretty insubstantial experience and there is certainly that kind of engagement, engaging with cues of what they’re supposed to feel, rather than the work as a whole. I think a lot of people find that totally satisfying and don’t want or expect more than that.
I think there are a couple of different audiences for a film like Strongman. The people who seem to respond the most to it are either artists themselves or artistic in the way they engage, in general. The other group of people that is responding, or has responded strongly to the film, know nothing about documentary filmmaking; they simply get involved in the story and the characters because it resonates on a very basic level.
SIM: Like it does for Stan.
ZL: Like it does for Stan. I really would like to say that what makes audiences engage are stories that take them to places they want to be taken but I don’t know if that’s always true since much less than that is enough to engage people who come see a movie, whether it’s a festival audience or not. And that’s a challenge for filmmakers who aren’t interested in making that kind of film. Ultimately, as a filmmaker, you have to trust that if you’re engaged, then there will be other people out there that will be, too.
SIM: Yes, and with a film like this that doesn’t hit the market very hard, there is a chance for discovery, a long shelf life, if you will, since films like yours are distinctly not made for that fifteen minutes of glory, but rather the long haul. You chose an incredibly inspiring protagonist, one who is rigorous in his efforts to always improve, who has the discipline to always pull himself back on track when things derail. I would like to see more subjects like him. We need these films that tap into things with which we all struggle. There is a distinct lack of substance in almost everything we encounter these days, unfortunately.
ZL: I couldn’t have done it any other way. It still is a film under the radar in so many ways. But I’ve received both big and deep responses from people who have seen it and still think about it a year later and still want to talk about it. My hope is that it will continue to resonate with more people. The paying-the-rent part of all this is always difficult, but I’m optimistic about the long-term prospects. At the very least, I hope it encourages more filmmakers to make work that is true to themselves and who want to push the door open a bit wider for other kinds of films.
New York-based distributor, First Run Features, is set to theatrically début six new American-made documentaries this winter.
Opening Friday, January 8 at the Cinema Village is Waiting for Armageddon, directed by award-winning filmmakers, Kate Davis, David Heilbroner and Franco Sacchi. This 2009 release, which premiered at the New York Film Festival, is about America's 50-million strong Evangelical community. This population, which spans most of the country, is convinced that the world's future is foretold in Biblical prophecy. The filmmakers explore, among other things, the politically powerful alliance between Evangelical Christians and the State of Israel and how Armageddon theology has had profound consequences both politically, and between various faiths, in the US and Israel. Armageddon, the film, is handled with a determinedly, non-judgmental approach; there is no narration, nor do the filmmakers seek to demonize anyone, allowing the subjects to speak for themselves. This is an extremely important document for dialogue and, in fact, the night before the film premieres at Cinema Village, an interfaith roundtable will be presented, in conjunction with New York University, at the Puck Building on the 7th of January. There will be influential community leaders, religious leaders and other interfaith-based organizations coming together for discussion. Clips from the film will be used as a catalyst for conversation. (Keep checking this site and the film's Facebook page for upcoming info.) The event will be open and free to the public; seating is limited to 120, including press. Filmmakers and other special guests will also be on hand at most theater screenings in New York throughout the week. The film will then head to Boston and Providence, RI, later in January. Also, co-director, David Heilbroner has a first-person guest blog post on the Huffington Post today about the film. Check it out here. Thus far, there are over 200 comments attached to that post! The film is supported, in part, by the Foundation for Jewish Culture, with outreach support from the Fledgling Fund.
On January 29th, Nicole Opper's Off and Running will premiere at the IFC Center, with special guest hosts almost every night and the filmmaker present at the theater for Q&As. Set in Brooklyn, Opper's feature début is a collaboration with her main subject, Avery Klein-Cloud (pictured above); the partnership garnered them the Writers Guild of America Documentary Screenplay Award at this year's SILVERDOCS and the film also received jury prizes for Outstanding Doc at Outfest and Philadelphia's Q Fest. The film premiered at the '09 Tribeca Film Festival (where it was a top-ten audience fave) and will have its national broadcast début on PBS' P.O.V. 2010 series, airing next November. There is already quite a groundswell of excitement and support for this film in many different communities throughout the nation, particularly here in New York City, and many of independent film's most prestigious and important organizations have been behind it from the start--Tribeca All Access, ITVS, P.O.V., the IFP, DocuClub and New York Women in Film and Television, among others. Opper was also named one of FILMMAKER Magazine's 25 New Faces of Independent Film this year. Off and Running tells the story of the Klein-Cloud family, a white female couple who are raising three children in a loving Jewish household. Before meeting, they had each adopted a child, Tova adopting Rafi, a mixed-race boy, Travis adopting Avery, an African-American girl; after many years together, they also adopted, Zay-Zay, a Korean boy. As Avery nears the end of her high school career and is getting ready for college, she starts to have an urgent need to contact her birth mother, curious about the African-American roots she's never explored. This begins somewhat of a rocky journey, one familiar to us all, as she searches for her true north and tries to gather together all the disparate elements of her identity--African American, Jew, transracial adoptee, athlete, sister, daughter. Click here to see the trailer and read more. Also check back on this site for other up-and-coming extracurricular activities associated with the film. Also coming soon, an extended interview with Opper to add to my arsenal of chats with kick-ass female directors. (There is a book coming, I promise.)
Opening across the country beginning February 5 is Judith Erlich and Rick Goldsmith's The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. This doc is the co-winner of this year's Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board of Review and was one of their picks for five best docs of the year. It also won a special jury prize at the IDFA and is a contender for this year's best doc Oscar prize. Daniel Ellsberg, a high-level Pentagon official and Vietnam War strategist leaked 7,000 pages of top secret documents to the New York Times in 1971 when he concluded that the war was based on decades of lies and falsehoods perpetrated by the US government. This was a watershed moment in history that led directly to the Watergate scandal, Nixon's resignation from the presidency, and the end of the Vietnam War. It was then-Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who called Ellsberg "the most dangerous man in America."
Opening in New York on February 26 at the Cinema Village and then in San Francisco, Berkeley, Seattle, Washington, DC, Boston, Philadelphia, Denver and Atlanta beginning on March 5, Prodigal Sons will launch its nationwide theatrical run. This film, since its festival opening in Telluride in September 08, has had a really magical festival run, and the film's director, Kimberly Reed, has had a chance to see first-hand how audiences respond to her riveting and open-hearted personal documentary story. The film breaks fresh ground in almost every way. Like Opper's family story, this one is so distinct and individual, dealing with issues most of us might feel we're very far away from, but in fact, transcends its boundaries of circumstance to leave us feeling like we've met another family we can admire and love, a family closer to our own than we would have first thought. Journalists and juries and audiences have adored this film from all corners of the globe. There's a full press archive on the site here if you want to link and read some items (or all of them). Reed, a transgender woman, returns to the small town in Montana where she grew up. She initially took a camera in tow with DP and co-producer, John Keitel, because the trip home was to go to her high school reunion--the first time her classmates would meet her as Kim, instead of the young Paul McKerrow who graduated with them, star athlete, honor student and all-around stud. But the story goes to the heart of the matter very quickly when she comes back together with her estranged brother, Marc, a man who's gone through many changes in as many profound ways as Kim has, and whom she hasn't seen in almost 10 years. Look for Reed and the film to be featured in an article in the February issue of Details Magazine with an essay written by Rick Moody. There will be several press and media events surrounding this film leading up to its run with social engagement and outreach partners, including a Film Talk interview with Reed in mid-February. (Carol McKerrow, Marc McKerrow, Kimberly Reed, pictured.)
Opening in New York on March 12 will be Tales from the Script, Peter Hanson's from-the-horse's-mouth ode to screenwriting, with encounters and anecdotes from Shane Black (Lethal Weapon), John Carpenter (Halloween), Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver), and others. Sharing never-before-told behind the scenes stories, the writers describe their collaborations (or lack thereof) with the likes of Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. There will be a companion book published by IT Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, that will be in stores in late January.
Lastly, opening on the 26th of March in New York and, then, nationwide in April is Dancing Across Borders, a new feature doc which chronicles the story of Sokvannara Sar, a dancer discovered by arts patron, Anne Bass, on a trip to Angkor Wat, Cambodia in 2000 and brought to the ballet stage here in America. The film explores Sy's relationship with his new milieu, the world of American ballet, and his new culture. The film was directed by Bass and was photographed by Bob Elstrom, Anthony Forma and Tom Hurwitz.
Wunnerful, wunnerful that all these independent docs are getting a crack at getting their name on a movie marquee. Good start to the new year.
Tune in tomorrow night, Tuesday, October 27, to the broadcast premiere of a new film by Albert Maysles and Bradley Kaplan on ESPN as part of the network's 30 for 30 series. Muhammad and Larry combines never before seen footage from 1980 with newly-produced conversations with those who were at the famous fight between Ali and Holmes, including experts, luminaries, cornermen and trainers.
The documentary captures both champions at sparring matches and intimate moments at home in the days leading up to their match in October of 1980. Check local listings for times on ESPN and ESPNHD.
With the recent tragic passing of filmmaker John Hughes (dubbed the "bard of teen angst" in one obit headline), I thought this an optimum time to write about a film I saw at SILVERDOCS back in June. I haven't quite figured out why this is so, but certain films, like this one, that affect me very deeply and profoundly with their beauty and truth--well, it takes me forever and a day to write about them. While one part of me wants to shout to the skies and tell everyone and their mom about it, another part wants to savor it privately, clandestinely, like a delicious secret.
But then, seemingly, everything else I see and read and take in makes the experience resonate even more and, eventually, helps me to form coherent thoughts about why this small nonfiction piece called Let's Be Together by Danish filmmaker (the Danes!!) Nanna Frank Møller, thrilled me so much. Maybe it's my own particular version of a film reviewer's angst, I guess, since I don't believe in the excuse of writer's block--much.
Clinically speaking, angst can be a kind of free-floating anxiety, often accompanied by depression or a profound disorientation in the face of a meaningless existence. Our teen years are rife with that kind of stuff--at least mine were. Instead of waking up as a cockroach one morning, 14-year-old Hairon, the main subject of Møller's fine film, seems to be morphing into a being entirely of his own making--not fully boy, not fully girl, not fully child, not fully adult, not fully Brazilian, not fully Danish, and entirely uncertain about how he wants to present himself to the world. The only thing he's certain of is his searing need for 250 euro Dior sunglasses and Baby Phat mules with rhinestones. Typical teenager.
The biggest problem for the family that loves and cherishes and accepts this capricious cross-dressing creature, of course, is that he is well on his way to being a target of sadistic bullies and perpetrators of hate crimes, people who would take one look at him and lash-out mostly out of sheer terror that another human being is wearing his insides on the outside--outrageous and unacceptable, meant to be destroyed, my god, it might be catching!
These three parents--his mother, Creuzina Gomes Jensen, his birth father, Marchello Pretti, and stepfather, Jimmy Jensen--adore this boy and want the best life possible for him. They are also afraid for him, and so do the best they can to go about waking him up a bit to what the real world might have in store for someone like him, despite his crabby, bratty protestations that he can do what he wants and they can all sod off. Typical teenager.
Hairon is a soon-to-be 15-year-old Brazilian boy who has lived most of his life in Denmark in a small provincial town with his Brazilian mother and Danish stepfather. But it is only to his birth father, Marchello, whom he goes to visit in Brazil after not seeing him for several years, that he can say, "Now that I've started this, I don't know where to draw the line. Or when to stop. I'll have to learn." And it is Marchello who becomes his teacher and mentor in the ways one can gracefully navigate between inner and outer lives. For it is Marchello who knows better than most what it is to live a dual existence; for almost his entire life, he is someone who has had to traverse the dicey territory between being true to himself and protecting himself from those who would destroy him if they knew the truth. It is a harsh, but honest, lesson in self-preservation, rendered in the most gentle and loving way a parent can teach a child something they'd prefer that child never had to face.
I am reticent and slow to reveal all the fascinating layers this film has in store because I think I'm simply trying to mirror the tantalizing and patient way that Møller reveals the details of this family story. With refined camera work and infinite patience that pays off big, with not one whit of exposition, narration, explanation--not a peep--she gazes from behind her lens and waits for the riches she knows she will be able to mine with her subjects. It is such a rewarding, exhilarating viewing experience, and sadly, so damn rare in this verbose, tele-crap, play-to-the-dumbest-guy-in-the-room, world. If you're a human being, you get what's going on. And I like it when filmmakers make films for human beings.
Western culture seems to be having a problem holding on to the propensity for affinity and empathy for our fellow selves, inner, outer and other. We are so busy imposing structure and common identity, defining that identity out of some misconstrued imperative for a common experience. (We're more label-crazy than the worst fashionista.) Møller's subjects show us beautifully that the parent-child relationship can hold phenomenal empathic qualities, an uncanny ability to see inside the person your child is, to see how they see the world and help them articulate how they see the world, to "be together." It can give the most confused, bereft being hope that they can navigate successfully in a world that is far from welcoming to difference or diversity.Here is a parent who has lived through much personal pain and his own angst and come out the other side intact enough to give his own child faith in himself, the belief that there are possibilities in his life. Hairon knows how hard life is--of course he already knows that, all of us do by the time we're five. The kid needs hope. In her film, Møller captures Hairon's understanding and discovery of the fragile nature of human identity. However spoiled and silly and narcissistic and temper-tantrum-y he gets, he's searching desperately for his true self and I admire him greatly for that. And, ultimately, so does his family.
In his interview with Mary Zournazi in her wonderful book, Hope: New Philosophies for Change (2003, Routledge), Greek/Australian writer, Christos Tsiolkas, says, "One of the tasks of anyone who finds themselves writing or producing film or ideas in our culture at the moment is to describe exactly, as best as we can, what alienation is and to give it a voice, and then turn it into the idea of hope and faith--that is, how to go beyond those experiences of alienation." The shared commitment and the shared responsibility of every member of Hairon's family ensure that this will be a nurtured human being, someone who will be able to truly believe the words in the song that runs over the final credits as he and Marchello dance together ecstatically under a summer sky: No beauty is greater than the one we're born with.
Because you get to wake up in a Polish neighborhood in Brooklyn that's a throwback to 1978 Krakow, but with better shoe stores. On the carpet in front of you are the two biggest, fattest, laziest cats to greet you with a blank morning stare, which uncannily matches their blank afternoon stare and their blank evening stare. One of them (the female) has woken you up at some ungodly morning hour by trying to pounce on your head, but you've found the spiritual space in which to forgive her.
You then shuttle your way into the city with a coffee of Stumptown in your hand from the Variety Café on Graham, and arrive early enough at your first meeting point to breakfast alone with your book--a brioche and a cup of coffee, both the approximate size and heft of one of those aforementioned cats.
About an hour later, some absolutely lovely woman, who has taken a chunk out of her busy day to talk with you, sits across from you, orders some food and beverage and we then proceed to have the most wonderful conversation, gabbing like we chicks do. That interview, with Cactus Three's Julie Goldman, will be posted here soon, so that's something to look forward to. I learned a lot; I hope you will, too.
Then on to visit some of my favorite peeps in New York and get my bag filled with DVDs to view--the good, the bad, the ugly. Again, I learn lots. And sometimes, I'm lucky enough to see an entire film, finished by the grace of whomever, a year after my last viewing of said film when it was just a few minutes long, dubbed a "work-in-progress," but, nonetheless, wrenched my sensibility around pretty good about my naïve relationship with history and the repercussions of what that naïveté might entail. I'm obsessed with history right now for some reason and have luckily been asked to expound upon those thoughts for some articles--I'll keep you posted on that. But suffice to say, that this imperative of nonfiction filmmakers today seems to be, not unsubtly stated, that we must take over where the world's corporate media stops short. And it's stopping shorter and shorter lately, have you noticed that?
Then I met up with a filmmaker with whom I'm working who makes it possible for me to have a living, breathing model of what a graceful creature a human being can be. That's a good thing to aspire to, I think; especially when I'm twisted up like a pretzel in all kinds of ways about my life right now. It'll all be okay; we'll get through this. Sentiments not spoken out loud, but expressed in the ways that she trusts you and has confidence in you and sees the worth that's hiding under a bushel. I'll stop here 'cause I'm welling up.
Suffice to say that I did the pretentious, incomprehensible art opening bullshit and then went to have a lovely meal in a French outdoor bistro (where actual French people eat) with two of the most interesting people I've met in awhile, most interesting because they're so open and so enigmatic, simultaneously. If the company you keep is any indication of your view of yourself, then things are looking kind of okay.
One of the most popular films at this year's DocPoint festival was made by a young filmmaker named Oskari Pastila. Not only has it garnered many rave reviews and a lot of press coverage in his native Finland, but it's got its own attendant lawsuit brewing. One of the main subject's fathers is threatening to sue for defamation of character. Pastila just wrote to me and told me it's also destined for a theatrical release very soon.
Quite a head-spinning experience for any artist, let alone one who has only done one other film project and had to prep this one in only two weeks' time--the project came sliding onto his radar very quickly a couple of years ago and he took the opportunity and scored big. No one in Basket Case--Finnish, American, African, or otherwise--comes out looking very good, but that's not the fault of the filmmaker. The subjects do a grand job of acting like jerks all on their own. The film merely documents the universal propensity for the mayhem and bad behavior that accompanies unmitigated greed. One could say it's the anti-Hoop Dreams.
Basket Case is not a story about fair play, team spirit or the inspiration of young men training to become great athletes. In the small town of Porvoon Tarmo, the basketball team's new management decides to renovate the entire team during the summer and fall of 2006. Due to an enticement of a potentially hefty budget (which turns out to be non-existent), they bring twelve non-domestic players to try out for the team, seven of them staying on the roster until the final playoff game of the season. Things devolve quickly and irrevocably as cultures clash, racism runs rampant, egos collide and promises of fancy apartments, cars, and a persistently elusive washing machine, dematerialize. With a sharp eye for off-the-wall vérité and a directorial presence that, obviously, garners great trust, Pastila observes these grown men at their absolute worst. The events of the Korisleague's '06/'07 season have led to a situation in which Finnish basketball finds itself losing whole teams due to having to renegotiate player contracts because of mismanagement. A morality tale, to be sure. This one happens to be Monty-Pythonesque in nature--absurd, tragic and very, very funny. You can watch the trailer and other teasers here.
Post-screening, the director greeted a theater-full of friends, fans and well-wishers and one could tell it was a very proud moment, indeed. I joined Pastila and his friends and other Finnish filmmakers at a celebratory after party at a local club where Shigeki Tamura's band played into the wee hours. Tamura did the groovy, jazzy music score for the film. Kudos also to Jukka Nykänen for sharp and expertly paced editing and lithe and stealthy shooting by Jarno Tahvainen and Janke Öhman.
The award-winning film El Play is screening in Washington Heights this week at the Dominican Cultural Commission on Friday, November 21 at 6:30, with a cocktail reception to follow. This 30-minute film just won Best Documentary Short at the Urbanworld Film Festival and director, Pablo Medina, has just returned from a triumphant showing in the DR where the story takes place (Barrio Lindo, pictured below).
Jairo Manuel Candelario (pictured above) is a young aspiring baseball player from San Pedro de Macoris, a small city famous for being the birthplace of some of the world's most talented players. We see Candelario practice tirelessly to improve his strong points, as well as beat his weaknesses into submission from sheer hard work and relentless practice, his dream, like so many others, that of being signed to a contract with a professional team.
First-time filmmaker, Medina, a graphic designer and faculty member at the Parsons Design School, brings an assured artistic eye and keen storytelling sensibility to his cinematic debut. The piece shows off the saturated palette and Caribbean rhythms of the Dominican Republic to wonderful effect in this story portraying young men's hopes and dreams of being signed by a US major league baseball team. Told with a casual, breezy style, wonderful camera work and an obvious love for his subjects, Medina creates an expertly realized portrait and does the short-form nonfiction genre proud. You can watch the trailer here.
Writer, producer and director, Ron Mann, makes films that explore those underbelly-ish, secret worlds where visionaries and explorers of the mind and spirit gather to play around with substances that alter our inner (and outer) universes (Comic Book Confidential, Grass, Go Further, Imagine the Sound, Poetry in Motion, among others).
After viewing Astra Taylor's Examined Life (which Mann exec produced), I remained in the beautiful Bearsville Theater complex to see his latest opus on feeding your head, Know Your Mushrooms. It seemed like an exceedingly appropriate flick to see at Woodstock. Technically still a work-in-progress (Mann told us he lost his sound mixers for the moment to Saw V!), the film includes footage shot at the 28th Annual Telluride Mushroom Festival where fungi lovers gather to talk and imbibe and learn about all kinds of 'schrooms--edible, hallucinogenic, lethal, magical. We're also schooled in all kinds of mushroom lore and factoids by short, sharp animated sequences and goofy archival selections about the dos and don'ts of ingesting those little suckers, all accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack courtesy of The Flaming Lips.
Long and lean Larry Evans (pictured) is our enthusiastic tour guide. An itinerant soul, he caravans around the planet from Alaska to the wilds of Borneo gathering samples in the dark, loamy places where mushrooms grow and disseminate their spores. The world of the mushroom is a lush and sensuous one, whether they're being used for a wicked pasta sauce, a health remedy or a spiritual journey. The other main mushroom guru of the piece is famed mycologist, Gary Lincoff. The absolute highlight of the film, for me, was Lincoff's hilarious narrative of a mushroom trip he took from a house in Laurel Canyon in LA into outer space. Please watch it here--it's delightful.
The next afternoon, after attending an inspiring panel called "Amazing Women in Film" with film critic Thelma Adams, actress Rita Taggart, producer Maggie Renzi and filmmaker Barbara Kopple, followed by that absolutely wonderful conversation with Karen Durbin and Honorary Trailblazer Recipient, James Shamus, I went to see Kief Davidson's latest nonfiction piece, Kassim the Dream, which world-premiered at Tribeca this past spring and won the American Film Market award at Silverdocs. (There were lots of other great films showing in the nearby towns of Rhinebeck and Rosendale; however, without a car, it made more sense to just hang out in the town of Woodstock to see films.)
Davidson is a superb storyteller; I loved The Devil's Miner. In this film, he tells the extraordinary story of Ugandan-born American boxer Kassim "The Dream" Ouma, an electrifying and exuberant personality who holds nothing back about the way he might be feeling at any given moment. This makes for potent emotionalism, as well as unmitigated mischief and glee. (He does a wicked imitation of a "redneck" in his heavy Ugandan accent in one scene that's a riot.) At six years of age, Kassim was abducted and inducted into the rebel army as a soldier where he quickly learned that if he was to survive, he would have to brutalize and murder his countrymen, including women and other children, when ordered to do so. Ouma is shockingly candid and forthright about his experiences during that time, at one point explaining that he came to enjoy some of it. But he also blames himself for his father's torturous death there and is haunted by the loved ones he left behind after deserting the army and fleeing the country to the US where he knew not a soul and didn't speak the language. The first place he headed was a boxing gym.
During the Q&A,
Davidson, a long-time, award-winning editor, admitted that there was a
huge editing challenge in making Ouma's American story and his Ugandan
story mesh. And, indeed, the film is almost two separate pieces. The first half portrays his life here in America where he trained as a boxer, had a son with an American girl, brought his mother and the son he had in Uganda to the States to be with him, and gathered a posse of trainers, promoters, supporters, friends and hangers-on as he worked his way up the food chain of professional boxing, becoming the Junior Middleweight Champion of the world. An American success story, to be sure. In the second half, the underlying darkness of Kassim plays out when he's finally granted permission to return home after many, many years of convincing the consulate here and other political organizations to help him get a pardon and an authorized release from the military for his desertion, to revisit the place of his nightmarish childhood, and to see his beloved Jaja, the grandmother he misses with visceral longing.
The scenes in Africa are exquisite and stirred a wellspring of deep emotion. The cinematography is so rich and lucid, at once capturing the rough beauty of the land and the gentle beauty of the people. There's one scene in particular where Kassim goes into a hut and trains with some young men there who are learning to box as a refuge from unrelenting violence and war. Their slender, ebony bodies gracefully bob and weave through filtered light, their faces rapt with concentration and focus as they follow Kassim's moves. It took everything in me not to start bawling loudly in the theater. As much love as he has for his home, we watch Kassim literally fall apart as he confronts and mourns his past. It's a complicated redemption song as he drapes himself over his father's blood-soaked grave, swings his grandmother around in his arms promising her new teeth, and guzzling massive quantities of alcohol (an ongoing problem for him even to this day) to cope with what borders on hysteria at all the things he's experiencing.
I hope that Davidson might revisit the ending of the film, because after all the finesse of weaving an exquisite tapestry of this young man's quest into a deeply resonant experience for the viewer, the film ends really abruptly with a scene shot back here in the States with Kassim and his two sons (both of whom are spectacular) singing happy birthday and smearing cake all over one another. And then the credits roll. It's a cute scene, but the transition from being in Africa is jarring, to say the least. I would hope there could be a more satisfying end scene to say something more significant about the story we've just witnessed. Executive produced by Forest Whitaker (Academy Award-winner for Best Actor for playing Idi Amin in The LastKing of Scotland), the filmmakers continue to fund raise and support activism about raising awareness and funding services for children in Africa. To see a list of participating organizations and to learn more, go to the film's web site and click on "Get Involved."
And then there's Jeremiah Zagar's In a Dream. Hoo, boy. Suffice to say I was still shedding pent-up tears on the bus ride back to New York. This was the last film I saw at the fest on Sunday morning. It had been announced the night before at the awards ceremony in Kingston that In a Dream had won an editing award for Zagar and Keiko Deguchi and won Best Documentary Feature. Everyone I know who got to see this at SXSW (its festival debut), Full Frame or Philadelphia raved about it and the film hasn't left a festival without a prize. So expectations were high. I wasn't disappointed. In fact, it packed such a wallop, I probably should wait some more to write about it coherently, but I'll give it a go.
There have been lots of profoundly moving family autobiography documentaries told by a member of the family being portrayed. It's a tricky proposition for both filmmaker and subject(s), obviously. But it's a rare thing, indeed, to witness the sheer love and generosity in which this particular mother and father engage and co-create this piece with their youngest son. That generosity starts with the film's main subject, Isaiah Zagar (pictured), Jeremiah's father, a man with deep obsessions (and demons). His work is the main obsession as he creates and installs astounding magical mosaic murals that practically cover whole city blocks of South Philly, at this point--over 50,000 square feet installed over the course of four decades, in fact. His life and art, indeed, create a waking dream, one in which the family resides, all of them nesting inside a physical representation of Isaiah's riotous psyche and his depiction of the genesis and growth of the family unit--every second of it, seemingly.
Zagar shot for many years, and during the course of that time, the family went through an hellacious period of pain, upheaval and remorse on a scale that nearly tears it apart for good. Yet they prevail; they go through the pain with grace and humor, losing none of their personal integrity along the way. Yes, there is yelling and crying and rending. But due solely to the superhuman resilience and emotional strength of wife and mother, Julia, also an artist and a wondrous humanist, the family's implosion burns and scars everyone, but the center, ultimately, holds. And they go on. The film exhibits, quite beautifully, both the brutality and the refuge of family in equal measure. It displays the most rambunctious ways in which we engage with those closest to us by blood, and the impact those encounters have in creating who we are and how we see the world.
There is all that, but what this film also displays is exquisite craft from every quarter. The gorgeous cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt and the lyrical and moving score by Kelli Scar sent me over the moon. Isaiah's art is certainly eye candy, and so is his son's film. J. Zagar also had some robust assistance from the likes of executive producer, Ross Kauffman who, in turn, brought in brilliant sound designer, Tom Paul, and consulting editor and teacher extraordinaire, Sam Pollard. I really, really hope that someone out there champions and takes on the distribution this film so richly deserves so more of the world can see it.
I've really come to love the town of Woodstock and its inhabitants. It's a lovely, lovely place. As some friends and I waited for the bus back to the city in the town's main square, we watched what appeared to be a quiet and dignified war rally (I constantly heard rabidly passionate political discussions about the election everywhere I went through the course of the four days) while behind the stoic placard holders, a fashion show went on with thumping disco music and all, while some local women vogued the latest in Ulster County chic--wild.
Click here to see the rest of the honorees and prize-winners.
This Monday, the 18th, closes out the outdoor film series at the McCarren Park pool in Williamsburg. Force Theory has just put the finishing touches on the music and sound design on Cheryl Furjanic's nonfiction film Sync or Swim--an appropriate flick for an Olympic summer. This is the film's New York premiere (it last played in Maryland at Silverdocs). The fabulous Ionic Furjanic will be DJ'ing a set at 6:00 before the screening at 8:00. Like a beach party without the sand. Be sure to bring a chair and/or blanket--the pool floor's not very forgiving on the tush.
Then, on Friday, August 22nd, one of my favorite films from this year's festival season is slated for the Rooftop Films series. Joshua Weinstein's wonderful Flying On One Engine is also having its New York premiere at 50 Bedford (also in Williamsburg). You can buy tickets by clicking here. There will be live music at 8:00, followed by the film program and then, from 11:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m., there'll be an open bar afterparty at Matchless.
Filmed in New York and India, Flying tells the story of an extraordinary man and he is one of the most unique subjects I've encountered in a nonfiction film. Weinstein's first film, clocking in at an economical 52 minutes, is a rare treat, beautifully edited by Hemal Trivedi. The subject, Dr. Dicksheet, and members of his medical team, will be at the screening.
Matthew Arnold and I met in a documentary workshop at Film Independent a couple of years ago. Led by filmmaker, Lisa Leeman, the workshop was extraordinary on many levels. We became a very tight-knit group for a while and continued the workshop on our own months after the official one had ended. The rapport and support between us (10 filmmakers total) was incredibly nourishing and inspiring. Most of us were first-time directors with extremely ambitious projects, all in various stages of production, and Leeman, a long-time producer and most excellent teacher (she's on the faculty of the USC School of Cinematic Arts), put us through our paces and schooled us in everything documentary.
I just got an email from one of those new filmmakers and it's so thrilling to see that he did, indeed, accomplish that most difficult of tasks--he finished his film. I worked on this project with Matt as a producer for a little while, so I know first-hand what a particularly daunting task this was to complete.
So, I'm happy to announce that this weekend in Lake Forest, Illinois, The Long Green Line will have its Chicago area premiere. The film will be screening as part of the Lake Forest Film Festival this Sunday, April 20 at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 and you can reserve a spot by calling the reservation line at 314 550 3608.
The film will have many more screenings this year, including a VIP premiere and theatrical run at the York Theatre in Elmhurst (the film was shot at York high school). The DVD will be available by the end of '08. Congratulations, my friend!
Eric Scott Latek is an extraordinary storyteller and filmmaker and his nonfiction film, Sweet Dreams, championed by the likes of Nancy Buirski and Thom Powers, is not being seen. Yes, it's played at various festivals, and last week Powers programmed it for his Stranger Than Fiction series at the IFC Center in New York with filmmaker and subject (Gary Balletto, pictured) appearing in person. But, my goodness, if ever there was a piece that deserved a wide theatrical release, this would be a good choice.
Shot, cut and composed by Latek, Sweet Dreams was shot over the course of three years in the "wiseguy belt" of Providence, Rhode Island and follows two young Italian-American men, one a bit of a lost soul who's failing miserably as a bookie, the other your basic small-town hero, quietly going about the business of being extraordinary, in every way--as an athlete, a husband, a father, a businessman, and a community leader.
Drawn to this film mostly because I'm a huge boxing fan, thanks to Saturday afternoons sitting on the couch together with my father watching match after match, I had no idea what kind of depth and artistic virtuosity I would encounter. It was a bit serendipitous that Jason Kohn, the director of Manda Bala (Send a Bullet), was also sitting in the theater, because this film left me with the same kind of awe I felt after watching his film at Full Frame last year. Latek's film was in the same program and, somehow, I missed it there. And while Kohn's film has secured more public notice due to a Grand Jury Prize in Documentary at Sundance last year and via select theatrical screenings, Latek's has pretty much languished in obscurity despite screening in 30 select cities via satellite by Emerging Pictures last year through their Emerging Cinemas Network. (They are also helping John Sayles with his latest release, The Honeydripper.)
The film is visually and aurally stunning, with intricate, carefully composed layers of narrative that flood the senses. Latek edits his own piece so hypnotically that I'm pretty sure it's almost a completely intuitive process for him at this point. Textures are seamlessly woven together--sort of like my gorgeous Turkish rugs. You can stare and stare at all the imagery that's in front of you and somehow take it all in--a lot of times it has the feeling of saturation, near claustrophobia, you're so close. It's visceral and it's exhilarating because you can't sit passively very comfortably--I was wiggling around in my seat. You feel like you're in there. Just like I felt when I watched Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran or George Foreman prance around like over-sized ballerinas and then, boom, down goes the guy facing them the moment before.
Latek, who claims to not be able to play a note of music on any instrument whatsoever, also composed the score. Huh? Yes, on the computer, he can compose, too, and the rest is filled in by the classical music he also loves. (And as Powers noted, the classical stuff is free to use).
In the film's press release, Latek says he is going to "continue to push the method of marrying documentary with the filmmaking conventions of fictional cinema." If that means making more films like this, push it, baby. Well done.