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Brett Culp discusses Batman documentary 'Legends of the Knight'

By Elliott Serrano, @ElliottSerrano

For RedEye

12:00 AM CST, February 17, 2014

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When he first launched the Kickstarter campaign for his documentary film, Brett Culp could have hardly imagined the response he'd receive.  The director of "Legends of the Knight" -- described as "a documentary film exploring the power of heroic stories & the inspirational impact of Batman" -- saw the campaign succeed, exceeding the initial funding goal.

Now nearly a year later, Culp is touring with the film, holding benefit screenings in different cities. He’s gotten to see how audiences react to his movie and its inspirational stories.

This Thursday, "Legends of the Knight" will be screening at the AMC Showplace Naperville 16, to benefit the “Tiny Superheroes“ charity.

Since he won’t be able to make the Chicago-area screening, Culp spoke with me via phone from Florida to discuss the film. We spoke about the experience of producing "Legends of the Knight"; the people who’s stories are featured; what makes Batman such an inspirational figure; and what he thinks about Ben Affleck playing the Dark Knight in the upcoming “Man of Steel” sequel:

Geek To Me: Can you summarize how this whole experience has been? Maybe a lesson you took from this?

Brett Culp: You know, this project was an idea that I had in my mind.  I could see it in my mind, but I could also see it in my heart from the very beginning. And I had no idea whether or not there would be any support for it; I didn’t know if people would be excited about it; I just knew that as a filmmaker, a artist, this was a story I needed to tell.

And so we launched it into the world, and at every stage of the process I’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received. This movie is based on grassroots support and funding. We’re not allied with any sort of big production company or distribution company. Any success that we have has been because of the support of people all over the world who have wanted to see this project succeed; and believe in the message of this film.

So for me, the overwhelming, amazing lesson/experience was seeing how you (can) have a dream and go take steps to do something out in the world; give your effort and if it has the potential to make a positive difference, people will step up and help you.

So it’s affirmed my belief that there are some really good people out there in the world that want to see good things happen.

 

Geek To Me: And how does it feel finally seeing the movie up on the big screen?

Brett Culp: It’s been amazing! It’s been fun. You know we just finished five cities up in the northeast, doing theatrical screenings there. And experiencing it there, not just up on the big screen, but with audiences and watching where they laugh, and where they cry, and doing it where you hoped they would, it’s such a rewarding experience. It’s so great to experience something like that.

My wife asked me the other day “are you going to get tired of watching this movie at some point?” And I’m like no, I’m enjoying this experience of watching it and engaging with other people about it.

 

Geek To Me: There’s something about Batman that really resonates in folks. Do you think that a movie like this would work using a character like Superman as a touchstone for it?

Brett Culp: You know, I think it would be a very different story with Superman, at least in my judgment. 

Superman, he does the things he does because he was given these amazing powers. It was not within his control. He didn’t choose this.

The story in people like Superman and Spider-Man and superheroes like that, is they’re given this power, now what do they do with it? What do they do with this greatness that has been bestowed upon them?

Batman is the complete opposite.  Batman is a situation where here is this guy, he wasn’t given a superhuman power, he was given a tragedy; he was given this horrible, awful circumstance. That’s the exact opposite of Superman.

And so, I think although that there certainly have been people inspired by Superman, I think that Batman appeals to the part of us that hurts; that is broken; that is sad; that wonders if there is any good in the world; and if we have any good in us.

And I think the story of Batman is ultimately a statement that - even though there are certainly darker versions of Batman - I think ultimately at the core of it is a statement that you can rise up from evil; from tragedy; from heartbreak; and still be a great hero in the world.

And I think that’s the reason why so many people resonate with that. Particularly in a time where there are so many stories where the anti-heroes - and even our biggest celebrities and politicians - are all turning out to be crooks and liars. Celebrities have become ridiculous today.

There are so few people to admire in the world today, but Batman shows us that even in the midst of all that darkness and all that evil, we can still find something good in ourselves; be the hero that we dream that the world needs.

Geek To Me: Jill Pantozzi, who is a friend and a colleague, is featured in the film. How do you feel that she, and some of the other people you featured, embodied these traits that you talk about in the film?

Brett Culp: You know, what’s been amazing about the film is that even though it’s a wide variety of stories, I feel that they’re all different types of stories; of people who have used this Batman image, symbol, folktale, in a different way in their life.

I think that for someone like Jill Pantozzi, the power of it is the ability to never quit. You know that’s what Batman means to her. You know every day Jill is fighting against these physical challenges, that she did not choose, that she cannot control and that she cannot get rid of.  And every day she has to get up and make a choice. Which is “am I going to stay in the house? Or am I gonna get up, and go out, and do the job, and have the life that I’ve always dreamed of doing?”

That for her Batman is that image of “I won’t give up. I won’t stop.” You know Batman goes up against these very difficult things, but what keeps him as a hero, what keeps Gotham City alive symbolically, is the fact that he will not quit.  You can break his spirit, you can break his back, you can kill his colleagues, you can do whatever you’re gonna do, but he’s gonna keep rising  back. And I think that’s kind of a symbol for Jill.

And in a similar way there’s a little boy in our movie named Kye, who fought through three years of chemo therapy, leukemia, radiation and everything that went along with that. And that’s what Batman was for him too. 

He would go through chemo therapy and he wouldn’t eat for three days. And he went for two days without drinking. And he would feel terrible, but he would say to his mom “Look, I’m Batman and I’m gonna do this. I‘m just gonna push through this.” And that’s an amazing thing.

For someone like Daniel Scott , who’s in our film, who was born with only one leg, and three fingers on each of his hands, Batman for him is a symbol that he can physically do the things that other people say are impossible.  And he’s done some amazing physical feats in his life! And he’s used Batman in the sense of “yeah you can tell me it’s not possible, but for me Batman is a symbol of going for something impossible.” Going for something beyond anything that people think is physically possible for you.

Geek To Me: I’m sure you heard of the “Batkid” event that Make-A-Wish foundation did in San Francisco. Did any of that make it into the film?

Brett Culp: Well two things about that: the first thing is that  can’t speak to what the San Francisco event was inspired by, our movie has the story about a little boy two years ago in Arlington Texas had an experience very much like that. It’s the boy Kye that I mentioned. He got to be Batman for the day.

And I don’t know whether one event inspired the other, but that happened several years ago, and I know several of those events have gone on. San Francisco was just the one that blew up into such a big event.  So that story is in our film, just not the version that everyone knows.

I love that and I loved seeing that. And because that happened, next week when we’re in San Francisco, our charity partner is Make-A-Wish.  And they’re the beneficiaries of revenues from that (screening) event.  And we think the San Francisco event is going to be amazing because of the “Batkid” spirit that they already have.

 

Geek To Me: Who was your favorite Batman?

Brett Culp: Oh my favorite Batman is Christian Bale. I thought he embodied the spirit of Bruce Wayne and Batman. He was approachable and connectable. And embodied all the things that I loved best about Batman.

 

Geek To Me: Finally, I have to ask a controversial question : Ben Affleck as Batman. What do you think?

Brett Culp: (laughs) I’m fine with it. I believe that there have been enough Batman flops in the world, and Batman that people hated, that the creators know what will work and what won’t work.

I think that the filmmakers have a specific vision for what they’re going for; and that Ben Affleck was not a politically motivated or just a revenue oriented decision.  I think they believe he’s right for the part.

And if they believe he’s right for the part - I don’t know what their vision is yet - but if he fits the vision and the vision is a good one I’m sure he’ll be great.

Now if we find out later that the vision was a lousy one, and even though Ben Affleck was perfect for that vision though it was a lousy vision, then it won’t be good. But it’s less about Ben Affleck than the vision that drove that creative choice, and we won’t know until the movie comes out whether it was a good one.

 

LEGENDS OF THE KNIGHT SCREENING TO BENEFIT TINY SUPERHEROES

Thursday, February 20, 2014  

6:30pm-8:06pm

AMC Showplace Naperville 16

2815 Show Place Drive

Naperville, IL 60564    

 

TICKETS: $11 General Admission

Reserve tickets at: http://www.tugg.com/events/7726

For more info on Tiny Superheroes visit www.tinysuperheroes.com