Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sundance ’16: Film Hawk

When reviewing a documentary like this, you just have to take the inside baseball approach. I know I have seen Bob Hawk at Sundance, but I’ve never spoken with him. I’m pretty sure he stands in the express line, while I’m in the general press/SIO queue. I’m not complaining, because it is easier to talk to the wonderfully cool volunteers that way—and generally my press colleagues are a pleasant lot. I wasn’t shut out of a single P&I screening I targeted this year, so the system worked great for me. Regardless, Hawk gets the short line and he’s certainly earned it. JJ Garvine & Tai Parquet profile the indie film insider in Film Hawk, which screens during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

Although Hawk has a fair number of producer credits and has recently directed a short film, he is best known as a film consultant. If you want to get your film into Sundance and then sell it to a specialty distributor for several million dollars, Hawk can help you develop a strategy, if he likes what you’ve done. He is probably most “famous” for launching Kevin Smith’s Clerks and Edward Burns’ The Brothers McMullen, and their careers along with them. The success of those two films really represent the glory days of the indie scene.

On the other hand, that sort of means we can indirectly blame Hawk for Tusk, Red State, and Cop Out, but let’s stay positive. In fact, Smith’s heartfelt reminiscences are the emotional backbone of the doc. Their relationship is obviously special, but plenty of other filmmakers also pay tribute to the confidante-strategist, including Burns, Barbara Hammer, Ira Sachs, Scott McGehee & David Siegel, and Kimberly Reed, whose personally revealing documentary Prodigal Sons Hawk executive produced.

Ironically, Hawk has not exactly enriched himself with his king-making work. The film consultant will not allow Garvine & Parquet access to his Manhattan apartment, but he makes it pretty clear it is alarmingly Spartan. Frankly, one of the best scenes in Film Hawk is a production meeting between subject and co-directors in which he sets up that boundary. Watching the old pro shape his own documentary is strangely fascinating. He is also unusually candid discussing his past struggles with suicidal depression. Still, there are too many scenes of Hawk the raconteur, regaling his tablemates at Elaine’s or wherever.

Garvine & Parquet probably get as much from Hawk as anyone could, but their production values leave much to be desired. The undignified soundtrack that sounds like it was mostly recorded on a cheesy Casio synthesizer is particularly embarrassing. That might come across as rather harsh, but if the filmmakers want to commission a richer, more professional soundtrack, I can refer them to some wildly talented jazz musician-composers, who could probably whip up something truly distinctive.

Be that as it may, Film Hawk has some nice moments, but the target audience has to be rather limited. It will be enjoyed by Hawk’s numerous friends and clients, as well as those of us who have seen him around, but that has to be the extent of it. Basically, it is like Todd McCarthy’s Pierre Rissient profile, except less polished. Recommended for serious festival professionals, Film Hawk screens again tonight (1/30) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.