USA / 2006 / English, German / Color /
35mm (1:1.85) / 90 min
Director, Script, Editing: Jessica Yu
Photography: Russell Harper, Karl Hahn
Sound: Matthew Iadarola
Music: Jeff Beal
Animation: Robert Conner
Puppet Design: Janie Geiser
Producers: Jessica Yu, Susan West, Elise Pearlstein
Executive Producers: Greg Carr, Noble Smith
Production Company: Diorama Films
World Sales: Submarine Entertainment (Josh Braun)
The long-wandering journey of life with its tumultuous ups and downs, as told by four men with extreme pasts: a gay evangelist, a German terrorist, a kung-fu enthusiast, and a bank robber. Each has gone to extremes in pursuit of the “truth,” and in due course confronts the edge. This work was developed from the worldview of Euripides’ Greek tragedies. Employing a structure that intersperses scenes of masked puppets in the role of ancient Greek actors, this work brilliantly evokes the vibrancy of language through the resonance of four stories that at first glance seem unrelated.
[Director’s Statement] This film emerged out of an odd challenge. In 2003, I was approached by Greg Carr and Noble Smith of the Carr Foundation about making a documentary on the playwright Euripides. The next two and a half years were to bring the most satisfying and adventurous experience I’ve had in my career as a documentary filmmaker.
The concept behind the film was to find people whose real lives mirrored the dramatic arc of a certain Euripidean tragedy—the tragedy of the extremist. I was interested in the character that embarks on a journey for valid reasons, only to find himself so deeply embedded in the cause that he becomes the opposite of what he had intended to become. He is blind to this fact, though, until the forces of fate and character boil and distill to a single moment of dark clarity. The threat of extremism looms heavily today, but the issue has fed morality tales for centuries. What makes a person vulnerable to this particular moral misadventure? Can human beings be guided away from the trap of destructive righteousness, or are we fated to learn only from our own mistakes? Is character fate?
I wanted to tell the stories of individuals who seem very different from each other at first glance. But as their stories unfold, one starts to see the parallels between their uncommon, common experience. To this end, the film uses excerpts from Euripides’ plays, most notably The Bacchae, as thematic chapter headings to the stages in our four protagonists’ lives. Although the play excerpts provide more of a tonal shading than a full exploration of Euripides’ work, I wanted to try to incorporate stylistic elements that would echo their original staging and underscore the connections between our stories. A crucial part of that approach was the decision to use puppetry in parts of all our stories.
Jessica Yu is a filmmaker based in Los Angeles. She won the 1997 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short for Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien, an intimate portrait of the writer who lived for four decades paralyzed by polio and confined to an iron lung. In the Realms of the Unreal, Yu’s celebrated feature documentary about the enigmatic “outsider” artist Henry Darger, debuted in competition at Sundance. Realms won Best Documentary at the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Newport Beach Film Festival. Her film The Living Museum, was an award-winning HBO documentary about an art community in a New York mental institution. Yu recently directed her first narrative feature, Ping Pong Playa.