There may be no appropriate scheduling at Sundance this year than the Sunday morning premiere of “Film Hawk,” heralding one of the greatest advocates of indie film, Bob Hawk. A minister’s son, Hawk knows a thing or two about spreading the gospel, yet he devoted his life to the Movie Gods, helping to discover and nurture such filmmakers as Kevin Smith, Edward Burns and David Siegel and Scott McGehee into the cultural lexicon, though his own name is largely unknown by the masses.
However, that should all change with the documentary made by two of his disciples JJ Garvine and Tai Parquet, who procured Hawk’s advisory services for their feature debut “Keeping the Peace” about Delaware activist-turned-Congressional-candidate Michael Berg and learned that Hawk’s story might be even more interesting than all the compelling work he’s championed throughout the years. “Film Hawk” follows the exuberant Hawk from his childhood as a kid who lived out of a suitcase to finally settling down in San Francisco, where as a young gay man he found his calling in filmmaking through activism by attending a test screening of the landmark 1977 doc “Word is Out” about the gay experience, and eventually setting up shop in New York to find, protect and amplify unique and distinct voices in the indie film community.
Never short of opinions, Hawk’s gregarious personality alone is reason enough to watch “Film Hawk,” but Garvine and Parquet are able to celebrate his work and also continue it to some degree by letting the filmmakers he’s worked with such as Smith, Burns, Kimberly Reed (“Prodigal Sons”), Barbara Hammer (“Nitrate Kisses”) and Rob Epstein (“The Times of Harvey Milk”) speak freely about not only their experience of working with him, but the personal stories from which their films were born. Through Hawk’s story, one not only sees the explosion of the independent film movement, but also the changes in American culture that film can capture for the record of history and perhaps galvanize when they’re slightly ahead of the curve. Shortly before the film’s premiere in Park City, Garvine and Parquet spoke about how they created such a fun and candid portrait of the man who isn’t a filmmaker, but made so many of them what they ultimately became.
How did this come about?
JJ Garvine: We were doing a documentary called “Keeping the Peace,” and Bob had signed on as the creative consultant. It didn’t catch on quite like we wanted it on the festival circuit, but we got a chance to spend a lot of time with Bob, chatting about the film and other things. When “Keeping the Peace” showed at the Albert Maysles Cinema in Harlem, our first screening in New York, it was our first time actually meeting Bob face-to-face. Everything that we had done prior to that had been through phone and e-mail and we had a really wonderful lunch. While we were there on that trip, we saw that Steven Soderbergh was going to be in New York, screening his documentary “And Everything is Fine,” and we thought maybe we’ll come back to the city and see this movie. We did and we invited Bob.
We just had this long conversation, and it wasn’t even just about “Keeping the Peace” – we just started talking about everything, just life itself. We really learned a lot about Bob that day that we didn’t know at all over this three-hour dinner, then afterwards, we saw the movie and Bob introduced us to Steven Soderbergh and told him who we were and that we had done this documentary. We had such a wonderful night, we were coming home on the train that evening, and I was like, “Boy, this could have been a really cool film,” like a “My Dinner with Andre” with just Bob’s stories.
For months, this bounced around in my head, and I pitched it to Tai and he was like, “I don’t know, maybe.” Finally, we were talking about it one night and we said, “All right, let’s do it.” We called up Bob and did a test interview where we went to the World of Video [store in New York] – it’s no longer there, but it shows up in the film. We just chatted with him, trying to recreate that feeling [in the film] of just sitting with Bob and talking about movies. Little by little, we just kept going. We thought, “Well, maybe that could be a short,” then Bob said, “Let’s get other people involved.” We actually started with Kevin Smith. He was the first person to come on board. From there, we just started meeting everybody.
Tai Parquet: It really grew organically as far as how everything happened and how we filmed people. When people were able to come into town, Bob would connect with them, and we would interview them. That’s why the conversations in the documentary are so natural because Bob himself had seen some of these people in quite some time.
[During that] dinner JJ was talking about, we instantly realized that Bob is a very unfiltered conversationalist. He would just share all these stories and it made you feel like, “Man, these shouldn’t be lost in the ether. This needs to be put on a record because this touches a lot of people.”
Did that contribute to how you approached interviews? Because it’s quite canny of you to film traditionally direct interviews, but also see Bob engage in conversations with the same people.
JJ Garvine: I don’t know if it was by accident, but the first interview we did was with Kevin, and of course Bob was there, so it was like, “Let them speak together.” We had some questions prepared, but quickly, just because Kevin is also someone who has million stories of his own, it was almost like, “Guys, whatever you guys want to talk about, just go ahead and start talking.”
Tai Parquet: That’s one of the reasons why what Barbara Hammer talks about is significantly different than what Kim Reed talked about.
JJ Garvine: At one point, we were talking to Rob Epstein, and then he and Bob were talking for 20 minutes and we just took a quick break to change all the batteries, and Bob turns around and he’s like, “This is working for you guys? Just us chatting?” We were like, “Yeah, this is what we wanted.”
It seems like Bob’s 75th birthday party was also a crucial occasion.
JJ Garvine: That was a huge night and I’m going to give Tai full credit for this – we filmed the birthday party and we felt like that’s how [the film is] going to end and it would build up to the party. Then Tai said, “I think it has to start on the birthday party and then go backwards.”
Tai Parquet: [The party] wasn’t something we planned. That was planned for Bob and and it was a actually a surprise party, so Bob knew nothing and he was surprised when we walked in with camera in hand. Logistically, it wasn’t that difficult. We just filmed verite [in the party room] and then JJ and our DP, Dave Reinert went outside and filmed interviews and there were so many people there that evening. That was the first time we met [“Love is Strange” director] Ira Sachs and I think that was the first time we met Kimberly Reed.
JJ Garvine: There were some great filmmakers in that room, and you could see some now and then in the background, that we didn’t even interview. It really did become the catalyst for the rest of the story.
Because Bob has such a history with so many films that he’s worked on, was it easy to figure out which filmmakers and films you’d actually focus on?
JJ Garvine: We knew the highlights, of course, and we made a list of the five filmmakers we thought we should talk to. We were very lucky to get all five, especially because Rob [Epstein] is based out of San Francisco and Kevin [Smith] is based out of LA, so it really was lucky for him to be on the East Coast and Eddie Burns was right about to start his TV show, so we were really lucky they had some time for us.
Tai Parquet: Those are the larger films, but it was important to show a very diverse set of filmmakers, so you’ve got to feature Barbara Hammer and “Nitrate Kisses” and “Word is Out,” something that the wider audience might not necessarily be familiar with. All this stemmed from Bob’s history, you glimpse into the history of independent films too.
You also tie in Bob’s personal history with his professional life in a way that illuminates both. Was that naturally there or did you have to work at it?
Tai Parquet: It’s funny you should say that because I remember riding to New York with JJ, and I said to him, “You know, structurally, this reminds me of ‘An Inconvenient Truth.'” [Al Gore] was on stage with his presentation, and then they would go back and show his personal life. When you film a documentary, you rarely get what you think you’re going to get, so as everything was happening, we started being able to see we had both this professional history, but also this personal history, because by this time we met with the family and everything, and [although], we didn’t have a presentation, I just kept seeing “Inconvenient Truth,” and we start with the party of course, and just build the narrative from there.
JJ Garvine: Yeah, even though the two movies have nothing to do with each other, we’re like, “That’s how they did it. Let’s see what we can do,” and that’s all editing.
Was there anything from your own experience with Bob that was important for you to convey?
JJ Garvine: We just wanted people to know how much this guy has dedicated his life to movies. He really cares. It’s not about the money and obviously, it’s not about the fame. He really cares about movies that he feels, “Others should see this. This should be out there.” There’s a large majority of people, even in the independent film community, that may not know who he is. But he’s a man who’s literally dedicated his life to it.
Tai Parquet: It’s also about connection. Bob really touches people. In spite of all wonderful knowledge that this guy has, specifically about the storytelling process, it goes so much further than that as far as how he affects and influences people. Like that dragonfly that causes that hurricane weeks later, Bob is that guy. He just has this influential touch that you take and carry with you as you go out into the world of filmmaking beyond stepping in and tangibly shaping [one’s] work.
That’s something that we, as individuals, don’t necessarily look at. We don’t look at how just our being ourselves affects the person next to us, and how that affects the next person. With Bob, he’s the one person where you can really see that ripple effect happen and we hope to have shown that ripple effect.
Given Bob’s history there, what’s it like to premiere this at Sundance?
JJ Garvine: It’s surreal that we were able to get into the festival, and just to be part of that, I can’t imagine how it’s going to be. This is Bob’s homecoming and this will be his weekend, not ours.
Tai Parquet: Obviously, JJ and I, along with our DP, Dave Reinert, spent a lot of time making this movie, but at this point, it’s really not our film anymore. JJ says it’s surreal and I don’t think we’ve really even felt the gravity of the situation yet. The feeling that’s going to permeate that room for Bob is going to completely overwhelm us, and to know to some extent, we’re a catalyst for this homecoming, is really humbling. We’re honored to be a part of it.
“Film Hawk” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will play at the Sundance Film Festival on January 24th at 8:30 am at the Prospector Square Theatre, January 25th at 9 pm at the Broadway Centre Cinema 6, January 27th at 6 pm at the Temple Theatre, and January 30th at the Redstone Cinema at 6:30 pm.