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Eagle vs. Shark

Eagle vs. Shark (opening July 6 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas) is a low budget comedy from New Zealand. Think Napoleon Dynamite from down under. The film went through the Sundance Script Lab and received financing from the New Zealand Film Commission. KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando spoke with filmmaker Taika Waititi and star Loren Horsley when they were in San Diego last month for a special advance screening of the film.

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Jemaine Clement and Loren Horsley in Eagle vs. Shark (Miramax)

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TAIKA WAITITI: Can you hear that?

It's ironic to be interviewing director Taika Waititi and actress Loren Horsley in the lobby of a mall multiplex where Pirates of the Caribbean 3 is booming through the concrete walls.

LOREN HORSLEY: Hear those explosions? They cost heaps.

But Eagle vs. Shark didn't cost heaps. On the contrary, Waititi and Horsley made their film for little more than a million dollars.

TAIKA WAITITI: Setting limitations is a good thing. I learned that at the Sundance Lab. It forces you to make even more creative decisions. And having a low budget kind of emphasizes that. You constantly have to be inventive to achieve things that you could have done if you had more money.

LOREN HORSLEY: Taika described it beautifully the other day when he said that he felt like the film looked as if the characters have made the film themselves. Kind of clumsy and hand made and cell taped together.

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Eagle vs. Shark (Miramax)

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Eagle vs. Shark is based on a character that actress Loren Horsley created.

FILM CLIP

LILY: Hello I'm Lily, welcome to Meaty Boy. What would you like to eat today?

Lily's a shy, awkward young woman. She's not certain about much in life but she's bound and determined to get the attention of one particular customer who frequents the Meaty Boy where she works.

FILM CLIP

JARROD: A Big boy burger meal please.

LILY: Do you want the big fries?

JARROD: No.

LILY: It's free. I'll give them to you free.

JARROD: Okay.

Lily thinks he's dreamy but director Taika Waititi explains the guy's no great catch.

TAIKA WAITITI: This idea for this guy who was this self-diagnosed manic-depressive, very intense, artist, candle maker and that was Jarrod.

Lily adores Jarrod and her plan yields desired results. The free fries get Lily invited to Jarrod's animal party where she dresses as a shark and he chooses an eagle costume.

FILM CLIP

JARROD: "I like your costume. It's pretty much the second best outfit here. So your favorite animal is a shark?"

LILY: "Yep."

JARROD: "I was going to come as a shark but I realized an eagle was slightly better."

As played by Jemaine Clement (who also stars in the just launched cable series The Flight of the Conchords ), Jarrod is a nerd who thinks he's a cool, sexy action hero.

FILM CLIP

JARROD: "You sucka, you better watch out you sucka, you fool."

Jarrod's on a quest to get revenge on the high school bully who used to beat him up.

FILM CLIP

JARROD: [on phone] "Is Eric there?"

ERIC: "This is Eric. Who's this?"

JARROD: "This is the piper and I wanna be pied, paid, I mean paid."

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Taika Waititi directs Loren Horsley and Jemaine Clement (Miramax)

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Waititi says it was important that the actors not view their characters as losers.

TAIKA WAITITI: Or had any contempt for them because then they probably would have played for laughs and tried to make it just a broad comedy where you laugh at people that are different.

LOREN HORSLEY: We wanted the story to be about human fragility and vulnerability, and kind of the comedy in that but also the truth in that, and that's what we were heading for.

Horsley achieves this through her character of Lily. The film gets its sweet soul from this defiantly optimistic young woman. Horsley says the inspiration for the character came from Julietta Masina's impish character in Fellini's La Strada . Lily's not your typical romantic lead but this timid wallflower wins us over with her gentle persistence. Director Taika Waititi says that films such as Napoleon Dynamite have helped change what audiences expect from a character.

TAIKA WAITITI: I think people are kind of realizing now that you don't have to have gigantic performances for something to be funny. And also to connect with an audience on an emotional level as well.

FILM CLIP

JARROD: "Do you want to kiss?"

LILY: "Yeah."

JARROD: "I mean on the lips."

LILY: "Yeah."

Eagle vs. Shark is something of an anti-romantic comedy because its leads are so ill-suited to the conventions of the genre. But Lily's sweetly dogged attempts to find her own happy ending make Eagle vs. Shark an unexpectedly funny and endearing work.

Companion viewing: Napoleon Dynamite, Whale Rider (in which Taika Waititi stars), La Strada

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