This coming weekend in Tempe, AZ you can catch a documentary that will simply just amaze you. It's called Strongman and for the most part you just won't believe your eyes.
Strongman is a cinema verité documentary about Stanless Steel, The Strongest Man in the World at Bending Steel and Metal. Told with the kind of intimacy that can only be achieved with years of filming, Strongman follows the dreams and heartbreaking humanity of Stanless Steel—the only man alive who can bend a penny with his fingers—as he struggles to gain control of a world that seems constantly out of his grasp.
Strongman is a film about faith, about believing in yourself and a film about never giving up. It is a film about weakness and a film about strength. Zachary Levy has been a country music disc jockey, a patented inventor, a cameraman for Oprah and 60 Minutes, and is the creator of the best-selling Bush Cards.
He is a graduate of Columbia University. STRONGMAN is his first feature film. Matt Strangwayes had the opportunity to sit down with Zachary Levy and pick his brain a little about the film and some other interesting things.
ICSYB - What were your impressions when you first met Stanless Steel?
Levy - Well, I think I remember how gentle he seemed. It was surprising because I was about to film him for a television show where he was going to have a Cesna airplane tied to each arm and they were going to go full power in opposite directions. Somehow in my head, I had this expectation that I’d be meeting this tough, hardened character—instead I was struck by his innocence.
ICSYB - Stan and his family were a big part of your life for a long time. Did you find it hard to remain impartial when making the film? Dig you struggle with an urge to censor or protect them?
Levy - Yes and I guess in a lot of ways I still do. During making the film it wasn’t that hard for me, I had told them upfront that I wasn’t there to be their “friend” but a filmmaker. That didn’t mean I didn’t care of course. I cared deeply. But I had to film what was going on and do it in a way that I felt was honest to what I was seeing.
The struggle to protect them in some ways is harder now-- the film definitely is not just a high-light reel, and while I don’t really think there is anything in it that really anyone who has lived a little can’t see in their own lives, I wince some when people criticize Stan or make fun of him in a certain way—it’s after all my work that they are experiencing Stan through, so it’s hard not want to protect him from a world that does not always spend the time to understand him, faults and all.
That’s not to say of course that the film isn’t funny or there’s only one right way to laugh at it, or respond to it, but yeah, given it’s all through my lens and these are people I really care about, I still struggle with that.
ICSYB - We all know the challenges associated with independent filmmaking ($), what are the advantages?
Levy - People think you’re a hell of a lot more successful than you are! Occasionally, a film festival flies you out to them and gives you a hotel room and plastic badge with your name on it, but besides that… Actually--I take that back.
There is one honest advantage, I think, and that’s for the all the challenges (and believe me, there are lots of times that probably every independent filmmaker wakes up wondering why the heck we are doing this to ourselves) I think by doing it this way you really have a chance to make a connection with people which is not disposable. It’s more difficult for sure, but for all the people who watch the latest derivative Hollywood or indie-Hollywood thing, they may forget it completely two days later. Doing it this way, you’ve got an outside shot of making something that sticks.
ICSYB - You made a very stark, stripped down film. Absolute cinéma vérité. Was this the plan from the start?
Levy - Yeah. That’s the kind of thing I’ve always liked. I probably would have done it this way no matter what the subject matter—but I always kind of justified it to myself that it was the perfect match for Stan—just the same way he’s trying to bend really short bars without any leverage, you’re putting yourself in a position without any of the filmmaking crutches that make it easier.
ICSYB - Compare Stan to a person from history or legend.
Levy - That’s a hard one. Stan is pretty unique. Sisyphus would be one, I think. But a Sisyphus that has the added burden have having just enough strength to actually believe he can move the rock. DeNiro in Raging Bull comes to mind as well. But there’s a part of Stan that could also be a character on the Simpson's too, or a guest you’ve seen on Oprah, or someone out of Steinbeck novel.
I really believe Stan is a great American character—both as an archetype and but also as someone who is so fundamentally human that you might recognize him as the guy who lives down the road from you.
ICSYB - It’s always fun to hear about the unique ways people have financed their first big film. Robert Townsend’s creative use of credit cards. Sly’s infamous “Party at Kitty and Stud’s” (Kitty: “someday you'll be known as the Italian Stallion” Stud: “let’s get high”). But you were able to tap into a time in history pretty accurately with a fantastic novelty item, Bush Cards. How did that come about?
Levy - My girlfriend at the time had given me a deck of the Iraq Most Wanted Cards—the government ones with Saddam on them. I was really against the war, so it was a gag gift. I took one look at them and pretty much knew right away what to do with them.
ICSYB - Have you ever met any other novelty inventors? Perhaps the Pet Rock guy, or maybe the person who wrote 101 Uses for a Dead Cat?
Levy - Shoot, I wish! When I was really selling the cards, I would go to all these trade shows, but I’d usually wind up next to some guy who had a random light up bookmark, or “Feng Shui for Your Desk” or something. Nothing that would even make a decent infomercial.
ICSYB - Please finish this sentence… “I’ll tell you one thing about Oprah, she sure can ______.”
Levy - Write a good non-disclosure agreement! You know, the funny thing is—even though I did camera work for her shows for years---I have actually never met her. I always did the field pieces, those segments that would play before the guest comes out, so we’d travel around filming them, but she would never come.
ICSYB - What’s next in the Life of Zach Levy?
Levy - At the moment, just working on getting the film seen! I’m doing it the same way I did the cards—booking and promoting it in a DIY way—so it’s a pretty much a more than full time job. I do though have a list of good ideas that I keep on the wall for when I have more space in my brain. Some are films, some are products, but whatever it is, I think the main thing for me is to try to do something that is fresh enough to be a challenge.
ICSYB - How much can you bench?
Levy - Ha! I haven’t lifted a weight in fifteen years.
Strongman is playing at Madcap Theatres Friday October 22 - Saturday October 23, 2010 8:00 & 10:00PM Admission is $8
For ticket info please go to Madcap Theatres Web Site!