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Drakmar: A Vassal’s Journey

This section is usually reserved for reviews of films hitting the local theaters. But I want to break with that tradition to highlight a film that premieres on HBO Family this father's day. The film is

Drakmar: A Vassal's Journey

, and it's a genuine San Diego success story for local filmmakers Destin Daniel Cretton and Lowell Frank.

Drakmar airs on HBO Family this summer.

I met local filmmakers Destin Daniel Cretton and Lowell Frank a number of years ago when I was looking for films to screen at a student film festival I run called Film School Confidential. I was impressed by a short film they had made called Longbranch . The film played out like an elaborate Rube Goldberg device in which every action by every character had a ripple effect through the entire film. The construction of the film reflected their point of view, which was that everything we do in life--whether we realize it or not--touches someone else and has a tangible effect on the world around us. The film revealed a fine sense of craft and a meticulous attention to detail.

Those qualities are evident in all their work. I have since shown two more of their short films: Bartholomew's Song and Deacon's Mondays. Again, both films exhibited a complex sense of construction in which the moving parts of the stories are intricately intertwined. Cretton and Frank also made a feature called Drakmar: A Vassal's Journey. I thought the film was a marvelous and surprising documentary work but because of its length, I had no place to showcase it.

Then last year, I invited the two filmmakers to the San Diego Film Critics Society Awards banquet. The critics group is one of the supporters of Film School Confidential and we try to invite young filmmakers from the festival each year so that hopefully they can meet up with the awards winners that we have attending the banquet. So last year, Bennett Miller received an award for his film Capote , and Cretton and Frank had the opportunity to speak with him. They told him about their film, gave him a copy and a short time later he let them know that he liked the film and would help hook them up with HBO.

Miller has said of the film, "I'm always astonished when I come across a film that is this honest and disarming." And he's right.

Drakmar actually began as a short documentary in the fall of 2004. Both Cretton and Frank were grad students in the film department at SDSU and their short focused on a San Diego based medieval re-enactment group known as The Kingdom of Terre Nueve. While making the film they met Colin Taylor, a bright but a bit nerdy fourteen-year-old. As they got to know Colin, they realized they had richer material than they had originally thought and decided to expand the short into a feature focusing on the young boy. The film would end up costing the filmmakers a whooping $200.

The feature documentary begins by focusing on Colin and his alter ego in the Kingdom of Terre Nueve, Drakmar. Colin comes across as a bright kid who lacks the kind of social skills to excel in high school. So while school proves a challenge (of the wrong kind), Colin devotes his energy to the medieval world of Terre Nueve where he is called upon to be the page of Sir Cledwyn. The filmmakers take great care to reveal this world and to show the obsessive attention to detail displayed by its members. Initially, this is what viewers think the film will be about.

But that's when the filmmakers decide to give Drakmar a surprising turn. They reveal that Colin's biological father left when Colin was very young and Colin harbors considerable resentment towards him for that. But Colin's older brother expresses an interest in re-connecting with his dad. And that's when the filmmakers step out from behind the camera and actually take an active part in shaping the story they are telling. They decide to help track down the missing dad and arrange a meeting. That's an astonishing and bold move to make and it pays off richly. That's also what makes the film feel so fresh: it starts out as one thing and gracefully morphs into a portrait of family in which the filmmakers take a surprisingly active role. Both filmmakers cite director Steve James ( Stevie, Hoop Dreams ) as an influence, and James is also one who breaks the traditional role of documentary filmmaker by acknowledging a more subjective perspective on his subjects.

Drakmar has a wonderful sense of detail and pacing. The filmmakers have the habit of holding on a shot after a person has finished making a statement or comment. Most filmmakers would be concerned about maintaining a tighter pace and would have cut the shot much shorter. But in the contemplative pauses that the filmmakers allow for in Drakmar , we get something extra, a brief moment of reflection that punctuates the scene in a highly satisfying manner.

Drakmar: A Vassal's Journey debuts on HBO Family on Fathers Day June 17 and then repeats during the next two months. It's well-worth checking out and I'm sure we'll be hearing more from this talented pair of filmmakers.

You can listen to Destin Daniel Cretton, Lowell Frank and Colin Taylor on These Days.

Visit the filmmakers' website Flagpop .

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