Using a five-question format, we're interviewing South by Southwest filmmakers about their movies before and during the festival, which runs March 12 through 20. The interview series is being posted at the Austin Movie Blog at austin360.com, with weekly updates.
We talked to Alexandre Philippe, director of the documentary "The People vs. George Lucas," which is described as a "no-holds-barred cultural examination of the conflicted dynamic between George Lucas and his fans over the past three decades."
"The People vs. George Lucas" screens at 6:30 p.m. March 13 and 1:45 p.m. March 18 at the Alamo South and 3:30 p.m. March 16 at the Paramount Theatre.
Chris Garcia: As a prodigious 'Star Wars' fan, what stirred you to challenge the forbidding Darth Lucas in this way?
Alexandre Philippe: The idea wasn't to "challenge" George Lucas, but rather to explore his fans' love-hate from a cultural perspective. Why does George conjure up such powerful emotions in people? As much as I admire his work, I had to approach this as a documentarian, not as a fanboy. And it's important to understand that "The People vs. George Lucas" isn't a fan film, but rather an objective documentary. Not to mention the fact that this is the first unauthorized cinematic essay on George Lucas — a love letter of sorts, but a rather twisted one, as we're looking at him through the prism of his most ardent and disgruntled fans.
Would you consider the film, as the title suggests, a super-geek tribunal? Is it fair and balanced or is it a take-down?
The film is far from a take-down. It's a very entertaining doc (definitely chock-full of ?ber-geeks), but it also makes you think about important issues like film as cultural heritage, the right of an artist to alter his work once it's been released and ownership in the digital age. We dug deep to collect informed testimonies from industry professionals, former George Lucas colleagues, film critics, cultural anthropologists, pop culture experts, writers and filmmakers. Key exclusive interviews with the likes of Gary Kurtz and Dale Pollock (author of "Skywalking"), whom we interviewed for 41/2 hours, enabled us to explore the more subtle, lesser known aspects of George's life and creative process. So while the fans are a very important part of our film, I think people will be surprised to see how deep the documentary goes, and how much they'll learn from it. We worked very hard to keep the debate as fair and balanced as possible, but we didn't sugarcoat anything either.
You call the film 'participatory' in that you culled clips and creations from fans worldwide. What kind of stuff do you show by fans?
Yes, it's a uniquely participatory film, as we've received hundreds of physical submissions, and thousands of tips and suggestions from fans, film buffs and historians, even studio executives. The submissions range from webcam rants and grindhouse spoofs to 3-D animation, claymation, sock puppets, you name it! The amount of creativity and passion that the fans put into this project is simply staggering, and their work gave the film a unique voice and energy. I think the fans will really appreciate all the subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to George's movies, and the novices will be surprised by the breadth of "Star Wars" fandom.
What's one of the best lines from a Lucas detractor in the movie?
There are many, but in order to avoid any spoilers, I'll give you one that ended up on the cutting room floor. This one's from Glenn Kenny (film critic and editor of "A Galaxy Not So Far Away"), talking about the cantina creatures: "It's sub-sub-sub-sub Muppet stuff, no offense to Jim Henson, who's a genius. It's like falling down the elevator shaft from the heights of Muppetry." I really wanted to include that one, but it simply didn't serve our narrative, and we couldn't afford to get cute with the story. With well over 600 hours of footage at our disposal, we had to make a number of tough decisions, and cut a lot of great clips. But that's what special features are for.
Did you approach Lucas? Heard a peep from his empire?
We approached them twice — first, when we launched our Web site, and a second time upon the release of our first trailer. We invited them to participate, but they respectfully declined, which is perfectly understandable. Ultimately, I think that's a good thing. Working with them might have pressured us to temper some of our arguments, and I think the film is more accurate as a result.
Watch the film's trailer at www.peoplevsgeorge.com.