... Vs Liger?
New Zealander Taika Waititi doesn't mind if you compare his charmed comedy to "Napoleon Dynamite'
With all of the luck Eagle vs Shark has had on the festival circuit, SXSW better pull out something special to impress writer/director Taika Waititi. "The script for the feature was workshopped at the Sundance Filmmaker Lab," he says, "where they invite six or eight screenwriters." What's more, Miramax "bought the film off a promo reel at Cannes last year. ... I don't think that happens often." That doesn't happen often. "During the editing process, we ran out of money," Waititi continues, "so [Sundance] gave us a grant." All of this luck at big festivals produced a wonderfully confined film from a director who made his mark with shorts like the Oscar-nominated "Two Cars, One Night." Who would've guessed it's exported from New Zealand, the same country that brought us the Lord of the Rings behemoth?
Eagle vs Shark had simple beginnings. By phone from Aspen, Colo., Waititi explains how Loren Horsley got the ball rolling: "She's a brilliant character actor, and she was playing a character similar to her character in the film in a play. ... We got to talking about making this character who was this really wonderful, naive but very open person, and the character of Lily eventually was created. It's someone who you automatically feel you want to defend." Playing opposite Horsley is Jemaine Clement. Taking a break as one-half of the comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, Clement plays Jarrod, a video-game-store clerk on a homecoming mission of revenge. Together Horsley and Clement spin a love story that evolves awkwardly but never plays as novelty.
"Jemaine, Loren, and I, we've all know each other for about 12 years. We're old friends," Waititi says. That explains the authenticity of a movie that has drawn comparisons to Napoleon Dynamite. "I don't really mind that. We watched Napoleon Dynamite after we wrote the script and said, 'Wow, that character is like a male version of Lily and Jerrod combined,'" he recalls. "The thought never occurred to me when we were doing it that 'Oh, this might be Napoleon Dynamite-esque.' We just tried to make the film that we wrote." The finished product looks polished but retains a quirky quality.
"I definitely wanted to work with friends because, it being my first film, I didn't want a lot of stress," Waititi says. "It's nice just hanging out with friends and making a film."
After this excitement distribution, grants, friends what's left to do? What's the festival circuit without the drive to sell your art? Waititi has decided to smell the roses, saying, "We're on a tiny whirlwind tour, and it's getting to see new places, which is awesome." Yeah it is.
Eagle vs Shark
Regional PremiereSunday, March 11, 6:30pm, Alamo South Lamar
Friday, March 16, 6pm, Alamo Downtown