Having shifted to Event Cinemas in Newmarket for its opening bash this year, the Doc Edge festival opened its doors Wednesday.
The festival’s opening film, The People vs. George Lucas, came with the added bonus of its director Alexandre Philippe in attendance for a lively Q&A after the screening.
The great, the good and this writer turned out for the opening which, for many attendees, slotted neatly into the diary following the late afternoon launch of BBC Knowledge, which will take over from the Documentary Channel on Sky next month.
There was the customary speech-making, thanking of sponsors, some tasty-looking little ice blocks, although documentary filmmakers are an impoverished bunch and so the canapés on offer disappeared more quickly than snow on a summer’s day.
The film itself was a good choice for an opening, addressing a well-known part of popular culture and giving itself broad appeal, following neatly last year’s festival opener The Sherman Brothers Story.
Where last year’s opener was an appreciation of the two brothers who wrote so many classic Disney songs, TPvGL was more an open season on the creator of its subject matter. It ran the gamut of responses to the Star Wars canon, especially the first of the prequels The Phantom Menace, from fans, critics, some participants, a few of whom would benefit from therapy.
While Fanboys covered similar ground vis-a-vis The Phantom Menace fictionally and with good humour, TPvGL trod a more risky path, trying to explore the issue of who really owns material once it is released into the world.
Certainly, legally, the creator and copyright holder does, and – as Philippe explained in the Q&A – each of the many clips in the film sourced from existing interviews with Lucas and the Star Wars films themselves was logged to the frame to ensure that it fell within the US ‘fair use’ legislation.
The day after it opened at South By Southwest, LucasFilm requested a copy, which Philippe parried by offering to arrange a screening at the Skywalker Ranch.
Following the screening here, the Q&A explored the copyright issues, some of the stats around the film, and a few fanboy questions and claims (which, for the sake of sanity, we’ll largely ignore). Whether, 30+ years since A New Hope hit cinemas, Star Wars is a pleasantly entertaining trilogy or an all-consuming passion that can destroy your sanity and bank balance really depends on how old you are now and how impressionable you were in 1977.
Either way, it is an American film and Americans have a history of over-reaction to their entertainment idols. And that, for this writer, was a major flaw in the claims made about Star Wars. Although there were contributions in TPvGL from fans from other countries, notably a few Europeans and Japanese, the director’s claims that Star Wars (be that the original film or trilogy, the six films, or all those plus the various TV series) was a universal game changer didn’t ring true – despite its multi-billion dollar earnings.
It certainly had no impact on at least 20% of the world’s population, as it didn’t get a release in China originally, or as the 20th anniversary special edition (which incensed so many fans who did see it). The Chinese were, however, lucky enough to get the prequels and contracts to make a lot of toys.
At the end of it all, one couldn’t help feeling that Star Wars was not all that was claimed for it. Like Elvis, the Beatles, Rocky Horror, Harry Potter and Twilight it found a good-sized niche within a certain demographic, a portion of which have now grown up, refused to let it go and move on with their lives.
For other, less one-eyed folk, the film – like the franchise that spawned it – is an entertaining journey and worth the admission price but it’s not, as Philippe acknowledged, world peace or a cure for cancer.
Regardless of that, TPvGL is an impressive piece of work, a labour of love culled from 634 hours of fan-submitted footage (including one 6-hour critique of the 6 Star Wars films with puppets) and a good number of interviews conducted specifically for the film.
Philippe is an intelligent filmmaker and speaker. While admitting to his own fandom when it comes to Star Wars, he has a sense of perspective which enables TPvGL to have much broader appeal than just to Star Wars fans. No doubt, some fans will be as critical of the choices Philippe has made in putting together his “twisted love letter” as they were – and remain – of Lucas’ choices.
Alexandre Philippe is one of the mentors at this weekend’s Doc Edge DocLab. He will also attend the screening of The People vs George Lucas and do a Q&A session following the screening at Event Cinemas, Newmarket, on Sunday at 12.30pm.
The festival runs until 6 March in Auckland, and 10 – 27 March in Wellington.