Fantastic Fest 2014: Kung Fu Elliot
Outsider art gets ugly in this strange Canadian documentary
By Richard Whittaker,
9:00AM, Wed. Sep. 24, 2014
Who the hell is Elliot "White Lightning" Scott? After two years of documenting the oddball low budget action hero and martial artist's life for Kung Fu Elliot, even the filmmakers are not sure.
At first glimpse, the film looks like a kin to Best Worst Movie or The Devil and Daniel Johnson: the tale of an outsider artist with a lot of heart and an ability to gather people together through raw enthusiasm and a belief in his abilities. That's what directors Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau thought they were making.
It was all supposed to be about an aspirational but not talented cinematic hopeful trying to hash together his next low-budget mess. Documentarian Jarrett Belliveau said, "At the start, it really was about [Elliot] making Blood Fight. It wasn't about pulling back the layers of Elliot's character, and how he lives in an alternate reality, and has all these other people that facilitate that for him."
However, as the film unfurls, something darker and more disturbing is revealed, especially in the relationship between Elliot and his long-suffering girlfriend/producer/enabler Linda.
Austin Chronicle: How the hell did you find Elliot?
Jarrett Belliveau: Elliot is kind of a local legend. Matt was in film school in Toronto, and his father sent him an article from a local newspaper, talking about Elliot's first movie, They Killed My Cat, and that he's an award-winning filmmaker and he's a martial artist, fifth degree black belt, and a Canadian champion. We looked for his trailer and obviously went, well this is crazy. We ran out and rented the feature film, watched it, and didn't know what to make of it. We didn't know if it was an elaborate joke or not, and we contacted him on Facebook, and he said, come on down, I'm making Blood Fight, start filming whenever you want.
AC: With tools like Facebook, it's both harder and easier for documentarians to find subjects. You can reach any lunatic. So what was the point where you thought, a, you have to go with this and b, that this wasn't the film you thought it was?
JB: We were into it from the start, because of Blood Fight and he seemed to have this big cast of people around him. For the first time we went to interview him, they were just so elaborate, his stories, that he was transfixing me. He had this sensei that he had trained with in Japan, and he was an award-winning filmmaker, and the stories were continuous. I was just fascinated. I knew that some of these stories were exaggerations – it only takes a Google search to find some things aren't real, like the 8mm Asian Film Festival didn't exist – but I was like, what's the harm? This is still an interesting dynamic of people.
When we really clued in that things were going bad was when the stalker appeared. We started questioning even more. Why would the stalker appear just a couple of days before the trip to China? Linda was getting upset, and it just slowly revealed itself from there.
AC: Linda's such a big part of the narrative. When did you decide to use her to balance Elliot?
JB: It took a year for Linda to open up to us. She was a little more closed than Elliot. He just accepted the cameras and going with it. But to really start talking to Linda in any deep manner, not just a surface "Hi." She's actually very nice and pleasant, although she always has this angry look on her face. But it became quite apparent that we needed Linda to tell a feature story, because they're codependent, and that mother/child relationship was very intriguing. And she really facilitated the making of all of the movies. Without Linda, there would be no Elliot "White Lightning" Scott. He'd still be dreaming, but she got a camera and she got a computer.
AC: The trip to China, with Elliot trying to convince Shaolin monks that he is a real martial artist, is such a bizarre shift.
David Eberts (producer): I came on board after the end of the film, and I watched a three hour cut. The two things that really stood out for me were a, the relationship with Linda, who provides the everyman voice – maybe more so, because she's more critical than the average person, because you get lost in his stores. And b, the trip to China, because it told me how dedicated these guys were.
JB: Elliot didn't tell us he was going to China until the week before he left. So from the day he told us, we got to China in two weeks. We went down to film him leaving, and as he was going we said, we might see you there. He said, "Oh, great." We had one phone number he had given us as a reference. OK, this is perfect, this is all we need. So, from that point, I found somebody who wanted to invest some money, and we found you could get a visa to China in 24 hours if you go to Ottawa. We didn't tell them we were going there to film a movie, so we bought our tickets and got ready for our trip. The funniest thing is that we didn't know where Elliot really was. We were about to go to Beijing and ask people, Hey, have you seen Elliot? The people we were staying with, her accountant spoke Mandarin, and was able to ask where the hotel was where he was staying.