The crowd pleasing documentary Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is about an underdog story: three teenagers (Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, Jayson Lamb) set out to make a shot-for-shot remake of Steven Spielberg’s classic Raiders of the Lost Ark. Through growing pains and strenuous shoots, the project remained unfinished due to personal conflicts among the trio and a spectacular finale that was out of reach for the young filmmakers.
This story has hooked many people who have either caught wind of this production or have watched the unfinished cut on a generationally battered and dubbed VHS. For others, Raiders! has collected interest and love on its festival run. The movie, which follows the filmmakers (now adults) as they try and complete their remake, screened at last year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival to positive reception.
I watched Raiders! at Hot Docs and actually really disliked it. What many described as a fun ride through nostalgia, I perceived as empty and annoyingly self-serving for the film’s subjects. On the bright side, the three friends seemed like great guys you’d want to talk shop with, but I started to second guess when Chris Strompolos used colourful language to describe the incompetence of my review. In all fairness, it was a glaring discrepancy, but my distain towards Raiders! remained.
The documentary is an underdog itself though, and it wasn’t laying down without a fight. Upon hearing of the theatrical release of Raiders!, I asked if any changes had been made to the version I had seen a year ago. To my surprise, the film’s 108-minute runtime had been shaved to a cool 95-minutes. Since most of my critiques were geared towards the doc’s post-production, I wanted to give the documentary another whirl.
Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is a much better movie, and it flies by in a flash without discounting any details. Instead of pumping the egos of Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala, directors Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen have repackaged their doc and have focused more on what the remake represents. For the filmmakers, it was a time to escape from domestic conflicts and celebrate with fellow film lovers who had an equally strong connection to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Any feelings of rebellion were to be applied to cinematic experimentation and tributes. For audiences watching their labour of love, it was an act of appreciation that could be cherished worldwide by a moviegoing community.
Despite some of the edits in the doc still running over each other, Raiders! is a prime example of how going back to the drawing board isn’t always a bad thing.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie