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by Jay Seaver

"Behind the scenes of a movie that wasn't."
4 stars

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL XX: There's an obvious comment to be made about how you see the producers in "MexMan" as antagonists or villains based on your own age and experience, but it's probably an important part of how people are going to approach this documentary about a man trying to make a feature version of his student film. It's equal parts being changed by his enthusiasm and alarmed by the mania, to an even greater degree than is usual with scrappy young artists. Documentary director Josh Polon finds a nice balance, fortunately, and even if you can easily see where it's going to wind up, it's at least an entertaining trip.

The young man in question is one Germán Alonso, a young Mexican man who has been doing stop-motion animation since he was a kid before attending film school at the University of California, where he made an eye-catching comedic superhero short, "MexMan", as his graduation thesis project. It caught the eye of producer Moctezuma Esparza, who was interested in developing it as a feature, but who wanted Alonso to pass some smaller tests before handing him the reins to a feature: Film an action-oriented sequence within three months, have a completed script in six. In the meantime, he's got an ambitious side project - a graphic novel made from his stop-motion marionettes meant to declare his love for the girl he's had a crush on since they were teenagers.

The audience doesn't see this woman during the film despite the fact that a number of folks with whom Germán has likely burned bridges with but good were willing to sign a release, and a savvy documentary watcher is likely to pick up on that early. Polon recognizes this and makes interesting use of that absence - as much as watching Germán work on this project almost certainly makes for a more visually interesting movie than the less dynamic processes of screenwriting and pre-production, it gets to the heart of both Germán's best and worst properties: You see the passion and the creativity, but also the extent to which he'll completely discount other voices or have severe issues with prioritization.

That's a trade-off that gets thrown around with artists a lot, often to the point of toxicity, but Polon does what appears to be a fair job of cutting the film to put Germán in a particular light. It's often been traditional to draw a straight line between creative genius and irresponsibility, but this film seldom gets close to that argument; the filmmakers are far more likely to frame things in terms of being worried that Germán will spin out of control. There's a strong feeling that what the audience is seeing of the guy is genuine rather than spun, with even the moments of him addressing the camera directly are seldom staged interviews so much as asides while Polon films him working or doing other things.

Germán is also a talented filmmaker in his own right, as becomes clear once the documentary gets to shooting the "Shock and Awe" action short; that leg of the film would be a neat look at making something that looks big and slick without a lot of resources even without the other drama going on, but it's also a turning point in one of the other main threads of the movie, as the classmates who came aboard as producers of the feature early attempt to assert more control. There's a version of this movie to be made where the Soper Brothers get presented more as villains - they are well-off white guys trying to take ownership of the Mexican superhero by a Mexican creator - but the cut Polon and co-writer/editor Alex MacKenzie assemble can't help but find them, if not sympathetic, but in a position one can understand, as seeing a return on their time and effort is dependent on a guy who, while quite likable, seems like kind of a flake.

That's why, of the three "MexMan" projects undertaken, only the student film made it to the finish line as intended. Then again, it's entirely possible that this documentary is a better film than the conventional behind-the-scenes materials it started as and what Germán Alonso could have made at the time combined. It's at least one of the more complete documents of one of the hundreds of projects that don't quite come together for every one that does.

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originally posted: 05/09/18 02:19:21
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Directed by
  Josh Polon

Written by
  Josh Polon
  Alex Mackenzie


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