REVIEW: OPERATION AVALANCHE - Fearless-Fun-Filmmaking
At the Viennale Film Festival last year, I was able to screen a lot of cinematic gems: Manchester by the Sea, American Anarchist and a few others.
One film I enjoyed in particular and reminded me why I love movies so much was Matt Johnson's "Operation Avalanche." The premise is simple: "In 1967, four undercover CIA agents were sent to NASA posing as a documentary film crew. What they discovered led to one of the biggest conspiracies in American history." Ok, that imdb plot summary is way too short and certainly misleading, especially if read in a growly trailer voice. To set the record straight, this is a "cold-war comedy pulsing with paranoia" as NY Times movie reviewer, Jeannette Catsoulis labeled it, but captured in the messiest and funnest pseudo-documentary styles and bursting with fierce, youthful ambition.
Even more delightful than watching the film at my favorite cinescope-screen movie theater, Gartenbaukino, was the Q&A afterwards with the down-to-earth and relaxed (he's Canadian, what do you expect?) filmmaker. His "lust for life" and all things film were contagious and reminded me of a conversation I had with a fellow talented documentarian, Steve Olpin, in Boulder, Colorado while shooting for LEGO back in the days. We had talked about the drudgery of filmmaking and corporate documentaries. I think Steve was in a bit of a rut. For me, I said, filmmaking has to be fun. The catchphrase "Enjoy Filmmaking" became a tagline but reminded both of us that if we weren't enjoying ourselves, having fun in the process, then we had missed the point of it all. Besides, who wants to be around a "Debbie Downer" filmmaker always griping about problems, underpayment and short lunch breaks. Case being here, shoot more with a smile, laugh and dream. Do it.
The driving footage in the end was insanely kinetic and beautiful. Filmed out of the back and front seat, we are mostly on the main character Matt, played by Matt, as he drives the car like a bat out of hell, swerving off the road, speed backing up, jumping over train tracks while getting shot at by agents in the chase car, holding the shot for long takes and the special effects built into the doc-style handheld footage was seamlessly and masterfully done.
Vice's BTS of the film intercut with interview footage gives a great insight into the chaos, yet highly creative and organic process of putting this film together.
And with Vice, Matt went on to create the Webseries, "Nirvana The Band," for Viceland TV. Haven't yet had a chance to check it out, but the trailer does make me laugh.