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Movie planner: 'Raiders!' fan film and doc; plus 'Life, Animated' and 'Nine Lives'

RAIDERS!: LOST ARK, FOUND CHILDHOOD

Fan films are popular expressions of cinematic affection in a digital world. Plug the term into a YouTube search and you'll find countless homemade tributes to blockbuster movies, comic books and video games.

Eric Zala, right, and two buddies made a Raiders of the Lost Ark fan film decades before it was cool.

There's a documentary about their efforts, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, showing at 2 p.m. Saturday at Tampa Theatre and 2 p.m. Sunday at Sundial 19 in St. Petersburg. Zala will accompany Tim Skousen and Jeremy Coon's documentary, followed by a screening of his shoestring remake, Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation. Tickets are $10.

You may remember Zala's makeshift epic showing at 2008's Sunscreen Film Festival in St. Petersburg. In 1982, Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb were preteens with a clunky camcorder, so obsessed with Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark that they decided to remake it, shot for shot, in woods around their Mississippi homes. Their resulting film took seven years to nearly finish — "nearly" is a key word — showing once at a local Coca-Cola factory before being stashed away. It resurfaced in 2003 at an Austin, Texas, theater. Director Eli Roth saw it, and forwarded a copy to Spielberg.

The rest is fanboy history. Spielberg and producer George Lucas loved it, giving permission for Zala, Strompolos and Lamb to share with audiences. But only if all ticket proceeds went to nonprofit organizations. That rule stands, although moviegoers do pay to see the documentary.

"We certainly weren't thinking about copyright (law) when we were 12," Zala said. "Now when it screens, it's essentially free, part of a double feature. We've been able to do so through the good graces of Lucasfilm. … They've granted us something of a pass."

The documentary brings closure to the project, nearly 30 years after Zala, Strompolos and Lamb filmed all they could. One scene involving a runway battle and airplane explosion eluded them. The documentary covers their efforts to complete that scene as middle-aged men. Zala said he spent $17,000 for that scene alone; the rest of the movie cost an estimated $5,000 to produce.

INDIE FLICKS: LIFE, ANIMATED

Disney classics are a bridge to the real world for Owen Suskind, the autistic charmer at the center of Life, Animated (PG), a simple yet emotional documentary.

Owen's developmental disorder left him uncommunicative yet able to memorize Disney toons like Aladdin and The Lion King. When his parents discovered his gibberish was actually mimicry of animated characters, they were able to reach him, beginning an unlikely journey to independence.

For the first half of Life, Animated, director Roger Ross Williams focuses on Owen's autism, the support of his family and cognitive leaps. Then comes the time for leaving home, for an assisted living facility where Owen meets Emily, falls in love, and spreads his Disney life lessons to other residents. Yet this isn't a saccharine story. Unexpected challenges arise, testing Owen's spirit.

Williams artfully conveys Owen's condition, employing animation for the young man's fantasies and darkest thoughts and Errol Morris' Interrotron camera, allowing Owen to look us directly in the eyes while experiencing anxiety and relief over a Disney crisis that he's growing from as we watch.

Life, Animated opens Friday at Sundial 19 in St. Petersburg. A

ALSO OPENING: NINE LIVES

Quick poll: Which actor should be most embarrassed by signing onto the kiddie cat comedy Nine Lives (PG)?

A. Two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, playing a billionaire magically trapped inside the body of Mr. Fuzzypants, the family pet?

B. Academy Award winner Christopher Walken, portraying the mystical pet store owner behind the body swap?

C. Jennifer Garner, right, estranged from Oscar winner Ben Affleck, playing Spacey's wife with her signature look of concern?

The answer, of course, is D. All of the above, plus anyone blowing money on Nine Lives at the box office. It'll be on home video soon enough.

in theaters: our Top 5

Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:

1 Captain Fantastic: Unorthodox father (Viggo Mortensen) raises his children in the wild.

2 Absolutely Fabulous: The fashion world satire Zoolander wishes it could be.

3 Life, Animated: Parents connect with autistic son through Disney 'toons.

4 The Secret Life of Pets: Toy Story with animals, and nearly as much magic.

5 The Infiltrator: Bryan Cranston and Tampa Bay co-star in a true crime drama.

UPCOMING RELEASES

(Dates subject to change)

Aug. 12: Sausage Party; Pete's Dragon; Florence Foster Jenkins; Indignation; Anthropoid; Gleason; Ghost Team

Aug. 19: Ben-Hur; War Dogs; Collide; The Space Between Us; Kubo and the Two Strings; Hell and High Water

Aug. 26: Mechanic: Resurrection; Don't Breathe

Sept. 2: The Light Between Oceans; Morgan; Solace

Sept. 9: Sully; Before I Wake; When the Bough Breaks; The Wild Life

Sept. 16: Bridget Jones's Baby

Movie planner: 'Raiders!' fan film and doc; plus 'Life, Animated' and 'Nine Lives' 08/03/16 [Last modified: Monday, August 8, 2016 4:34pm]
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