Sunday, November 10, 2013

DOC NYC 2013, arriving November 14, boasts an amazing line-up, with MISFIRE--about the life and death of The Shooting Gallery--a don't miss!

Each year it gets bigger and better. That's DOC NYC 2013, the annual array of documentaries short and full-length, that -- in its way -- hands you the world in eight days. This year's line-up, which you can access by clicking here, is a full-out amazement. I spent an hour just clicking on each individual event/film, then hoping that they call get a chance to be seen, either in theaters eventually or via cable/TV. For folk who love the documentary form -- though that form continues to evolve immensely from year to year -- this is probably the highlight of the movie-going year.

Because TrustMovies has been away of late, and in any case is trying to shift his blog over to covering mainly what's good (or not) on Netflix streaming, he had to miss many of the press screenings for these films. One movie he did manage to see -- and revel in -- is the documentary titled MISFIRE: The Rise and Fall of The Shooting Gallery from director Whitney Ransick, shown below, a fellow who was actually a part of The Shooting Gallery when that much-loved, much-lauded and early New York-based "independent film studio" came into being-- mostly by chance and due to the work of a group filmmakers who had met while studying at the State University of New York, Purchase -- back in the early 1990s.

The Shooting Gallery (TSG, as it would eventually be known) lasted only one decade but seemed to almost single-handedly set the standard and tone for independent film, particularly that subsection set here on the east coast. What Ransick's movie does, and extraordinarily well, is show us how TSG came into being, what it accomplished -- often, it seemed by chance and sheer luck -- and how the differing goals of the men in charge (making movies or making money) probably doomed TSG from the outset.

Ransick uses a plethora of talking heads here, but fortunately they all talk well, smartly and honestly, about what TSG meant to them, what happened from their perspective, and why. We hear from everyone from actors like Robin Tunney (we also see the early Edie Falco, below, left, with Adam Trese) to directors (one of the founders, Bob Gosse), the casting director, the guy in charge of music, accountants, marketing mavens and so many more.

Their words and memories help create the picture of young movie-makers hoping to create art but settling for the best they could do on generally minuscule budgets. Given all the talent involved, the firm had but a single hit movie (but what a hit!): Sling Blade. (TSG also released You Can Count on Me, but I'm not sure how overall profitable that one actually was.) Film buffs will have heard of other of TSG's output --- Laws of Gravity and Niagara Niagara for two -- but even someone like TrustMovies, who closely followed independent film, managed to miss other TSG movies such as Hand Gun (below) and New Jersey Drive.

Along about the time of TSG's big hit, the group gets some excellent advice from Chris Blackwell of Island Records & Films: "Stay true to yourself and stay true to each other because, collectively, you'll be much stronger than you can be as individuals." Smart words, but hard to do when, from the outset, founder Gosse and co-founder Larry Meistrich had diametrically opposed views of what was important. (Meistrich and his friend Steve Carlis, TSG's CFO refused to be interviewed for the film, and while it is difficult not to see them as the villains here, Ransick and the others don't demonize the pair. They're viewed more in sorrow than in anger.)

The movie offers a lot of humor, too. One of the funniest segments recounts the filming of a short called My Birthday Cake (above), the day after the lead actor had been dumped by his longtime girlfriend.

What finally brought TSG down? Remember the dawn of the Internet bubble and all those come-to-nothing IPOs? Sure enough, Meistrich and Carlis went whole hog down that road. When bankruptcy arrived, the little company owed something like 72 million dollars. Talk about cautionary tales! And yet Misfire seems anything but a downer. Instead it's full of life and expectations, the thrill of creativity and exploration. It'll make you proud of and excited for these young filmmakers (shown above), now firmly into middle age or beyond (shown below), even as it leaves you with some pain and sadness for what might have been.

One of the crew is now in Brooklyn, making pies (which are said to be quite tasty). "It was great," he tells us of the TSG days, "but it wasn't as real as what I'm doing now." The movie, running 78 information-, surprise- and emotion-packed minutes, plays at DOC NYC one week from today, Sunday, November 17, at 7pm at the IFC Center. Click here for tickets.

I would wager that Misfire is sure to gain a theatrical release, as it's a must-see, not only for those in the industry but for anyone even remotely interested in independent film-making and its history -- from both the creative and business perspectives.

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