We receive comedy film submissions of all types and genres. While there's no particular type of comedy film we prefer, one of the least successful forms we receive is the comedy documentary.
And we love comedy documentaries when they work. But they often don't.
Christopher Guest et al have made some of the finest comedy films of the past 20 years, but they are also unfortunately responsible for the rise of the "mockumentary." Like any spoof, a true comedy documentary must first be as good as the subject it's satirizing, and then go one step further. (It also helps to actually satirize something. If you're confused, click here.) Many people seem to think that all it takes to be Christopher Guest is to grab a camera and put yourself and your "funny" friends in front of it. After all, these things are improvised, right? Well, not entirely. For starters, these are experienced improvisers who've also spent a lot of time developing Characters and Stories. Yes, we're talking to you, college students: Stop with the mockumentaries! Especially the ones about the entertainment industry, because it kind of feels like you're biting the hand that you so desperately want to feed you.
But we digress. This post is titled "Movies We Like," so we'll use the rest of this space to highlight a few favorites that have played well at our festival.
The first in the mockumentary category is Andy Bobrow's incredible film The Old Negro Space Program. Bobrow's movie, besides being a pitch-perfect lampoon of the Ken Burns-style documentary, is actually about something, and touches on issues of race in American history in a way that only a satire can. One of our favorite all-time short comedy films.
Another great movie in the "mockumentary" category is Alec Cohen's I Got Shot With A Bullet. Unfortunately this film isn't online so we can't post it here, but Cohen's movie is a remarkable portrait of a filmmaker who earnestly documents his own trials but ends up exposing himself as a self-involved idiot.
Of course, actual documentaries can be funny too. We LOVE to receive real, non-spoof documentaries which have a comic subject or approach their story in a funny way.
Lowell Northrop's Have You Seen Axl Rose? takes a series of audio recordings of people who have had first-hand encounters with the reclusive rocker and plays them over footage of an Axl Rose impersonator walking through the streets of Los Angeles. It's an odd, funny, and kind of haunting movie.
Another documentary that played well for us is Jay Stern and M. Sweeney Lawless' Portrait of the Artist as a 16 Year Old. Yes, we know that Jay is a founder, producer, and co-host of The Iron Mule. But if he can't show his own dang movies at his own dang film festival, what's the point of having one to begin with?
And then there was the first movie to appear on HBO after screening at our festival, Jon Rubin's So Many Women, So Little Hair.
One filmmaker who straddles the line between fiction and documentary is Kyle Gilman, who likes to use the term "fictumentary" to describe his films such as The Epic Tale of Kalesius and Clotho. In this film Gilman fictionalizes true stories of his own life, plays a version of himself, and captures it all in a documentary style. For you documentary fans out there, it will come as no surprise that Gilman studied with Ross McElwee.
And finally, we've shown a few "man on the street" documentaries, which combine "real" people and comic setups. These are familiar to audiences through various prank videos and things like Jay Leno's Jaywalking bit. One filmmaker who always seems to get the tone right with this kind of thing is Kevin Maher, whose film You Make the Call is embedded below.
We are excited to have Ritch Duncan join us as a guest judge at the February 6, 2010 Iron Mule screening.
Ritch Duncan is a writer and comedian living in New York City, currently writing for truTV.com. He runs a free, monthly stand up show called "Third Fridays"at Ochi's Lounge, inside Comix comedy club. It takes place (somewhat predictably) on the third Friday of every month at 7:00 PM. His first book, "The Werewolf's Guide To Life," was published by Broadway Books last September.
In spite of the outrageously cold weather, we had a packed house down at 92YTribeca for our first show in 2010, and incidentally, our 1-year anniversary of appearing at 92YTri.
Victor Varnado began the show talking about all of those lists looking back at the worst movies of the decade, and expressed his dismay that a movie he appeared in, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, wasn't on any of the lists. Co-host Jay Stern urged the audience to join the fight and write to all those list-makers out there, urging them to include Pluto Nash on their worst-movies-of-the-decade list. We urge all of you readers out there to join in the effort and put the flop featuring Victor Varnado on top of those worst-movie lists!
Then Jay and Victor introduced special guest judge R. Sikoryak. Sikoryak presented two of his "Masterpiece Comics" pieces on the big screen via Powerpoint, assisted with vocals by M. Sweeney Lawless. First was "Inferno Joe," a version of Dante's Inferno as illustrated by a series of Bazooka Joe comic strips. Following this mini masterpiece, Sikoyak presented "Mac Worth," his rendition of "Macbeth" as told with characters from the comic "Mary Worth."
And then we were on to the films! First up was Sam Carter's "Beast of Burden," a story about a closet-hiding monster who is dumped by the kid he's been scaring for years. "Beast of Burden" sports a nicely told story, is beautifully shot, and features some good acting too. Sam and producer Eddie Stone were in attendance, all the way from Atlanta, Georgia. It was Sam's first visit to NYC. Fun fact: we learned in the interview that the plot of "Beast of Burden" was thought of by the movie's 12-year-old star.
Next was Thom Woodley and Johnny North's "All's Faire: Episode the Thirde," an episode from a webseries which examines the strange world of Renaissance Fairs, created by the folks who brought you "The Burg."
Next up was dp's "The Lake," the latest in the white-guy-does-rap-but-it's-way-much-better-than-it-sounds genre by our friend dp. This played back to back with Jack Ferry's "Flirting with Andrea Schnoonens," a funny short featuring the comedy team of Pete and Brian. Jay and Victor conducted a tag team interview with dp and Jack Ferry following these shorts, in which they all discussed the intricacies of adapting sketch comedy for the screen.
Last up was the odd and quirky animated look at humans destroying the planet called "We Are All Here," by Yonghwa Choi. Victor expressed mock surprise that this movie with its eco-conscious subject matter was made by a college student.
And then, after a brief preview for another show Jay produces at 92YTribeca, it was finally time for this month's "Wanna Be a Star" movie, "Spinach Pie," directed by Katie Carman and starring Iron Mule audience member Heather Cole. The short, produced over the last month to a title suggested by an audience member at last December's screening, involved lots of dancing in the streets of New York and the consumption of a large piece of spinach pie with whipped cream on top.
R. Sikoryak then announced the winning film. The winner of both audience favorite and the judge's prize went to "Beast of Burden." We were happy to show Sam and Eddie some NYC hospitality, and thankfully they made a film film worthy of the honor bestowed upon it. R. Sikoyak awarded them with their own copy of "Masterpiece Comics," signed by the author, complete with a drawing of Batman next to the signature.
After the screening, the crowd reconvened in the 92YTri cafe, and then later went out into the frigid NYC air to a local bar where merriment continued until 2 or 3 in the morning, we forget when exactly. Fun was had by all, and images of short comedy films danced in our heads as we fell asleep that night. We should really talk to a doctor about that.