A mockumentary about a famous artist and the children he left behind highlights the next Film Kitchen. | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A mockumentary about a famous artist and the children he left behind highlights the next Film Kitchen.

click to enlarge Art for Happy's sake: Hal Weaver stars in Zoje Stage's Happy Walter.
Art for Happy's sake: Hal Weaver stars in Zoje Stage's Happy Walter.

With the right inspiration, it's true: A script really can almost write itself.

So Zoje Stage learned while watching the documentary Bukowski: Born Into This shortly after viewing another portrait of "an asshole genius": Tell Them Who You Are, Mark Wexler's film about his relationship with his father, famed cinematographer Haskell Wexler.

In Tell Them, Stage recalls, Wexler asks his son, "Are you going to stand there and shoot it? I thought you wanted to make a good documentary."

"Oh, my god, you could not do this in a fiction film," Stage thought.

But later, she did. Stage's mockumentary Happy Walter premieres at the March 13 installment of the Film Kitchen screening series (a CP-sponsored event). The Rochester, N.Y.-based artist herself plays Happy Walter IV, one of 13 children of a famous and goofily smug artist who made his name with ephemeral sculptures no one was permitted to document, most of them constructed of toilet paper.

The satiric indie feature, shot on video, is both a bio of the dubiously talented Happy Walter and the story of Walter IV's struggle to know the father who failed to raise any of his children, despite naming them all after himself.

Walter is portrayed by a friend of Stage's named Hal Weaver, an artist and graphic designer who lives in Virginia Beach, Va. His Walter -- the son of a Pittsburgh steelworker -- is a goateed, greasy-haired, earringed guy in a T-shirt reading "Half Man, Half Horse."

Most of Stage's actors are untrained -- resulting, for instance, in possible audience uncertainty over whether Weaver is a good if unpolished actor who knows Happy Walter doesn't believe his own bullshit, or simply someone who doesn't buy it himself, and who eventually starts channeling Dennis Hopper.

But though Stage's witty writing compensates for any confusion, she also notes that much of the dialogue was improvised by her performers. We're left to guess whether that includes Happy Walter's line, "The greatest gift abusive parents can give their child is the means to document their misery."

Indeed, by movie's end Stage has even convincingly introduced a few notes of sadness into the story. Other key characters include Happy Walter's eccentric former assistant and the embittered ex-wife who is Happy Walter IV's mother.

Stage shot Happy Walter in both her hometown, Pittsburgh, and Rochester, where she's lived since 2004. "Why do I keep doing things based on Pittsburgh?" she asks rhetorically. "I don't even know."


Art is also at the crux of "The Loves of S.D. Hawkingson." The 14-minute romance started as a classmate's script chosen by the Point Park University student movie-making team that included Marc Roman Czornij as director. In the rewrite fashioned by Czornij and his collaborators, a young aesthete dissatisfied with one relationship is led to another by his search for some books he needs to understand an art exhibit.

The video, which premieres at the March 13 Film Kitchen, stars Jonathan Pitcher as the intellectually prepossessing title character -- a far cry from the "regular Joe" who Czornij says anchored the original script. "He was very much like the rest of us, and we wanted him to be more fantastic," says Czornij, "even if it was in a silly way."

Film Kitchen 8 p.m. Tue., March 13 (7 p.m. reception). Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., N. Oakland. $4. 412-316-3342-x178 or www.filmkitchenpgh.org

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