The 32nd annual Miami-Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival kicked off Friday night with the Florida premiere of Argentine writer/director Damián Szifron’s Oscar-nominated dark comedy Wild Tales at the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center. Unlike previous years’ opening night events, I decided to skip the premiere (and the Patron Opening Night Party that followed it too) since I’d already seen the film in December. I have my issues with the film but it’s definitely a crowd pleaser with its share of memorable moments—a perfect festival opener.
Instead, my 2015 MIFF journey began all the way up in North Miami Beach at the new O-Cinema Miami Beach with the screening of one of my most anticipated films of the fest: Oscar-nominated filmmaker Daniel Junge’s Being Evel. The highly entertaining documentary, which made its world premiere in January at Sundance, tells the larger-than-life story of international iconic and daredevil Robert “Evel” Knievel whose hair-raising exploits in the 1960s and 70s captured the imaginations of many Americans during a tumultuous period in history when Vietnam and Watergate ruled the news.
Like many biographical documentaries, Junge’s film tells its story using extensive archival footage interspersed with talking head interviews. But it’s the style, footage and interviewees that Junge has assembled to tell Knievel’s story is what makes Being Evel such a ride. From its energetic comic-panel inspired credit sequence to its rock soundtrack to the nutty array of interviewees, including Johnny Knoxville (who produced the film), it becomes clear that this isn’t going to be your average talking head documentary. The glut of footage Junge and company have compiled for the picture, including some very rare stuff, is truly impressive. You cringe in horror when you watch Knievel crashing and smile in relief when he completes a jump successfully.
One of the beauties of Junge’s film is that it isn’t afraid to shy away from the uglier aspects of Knievel’s life. In fact, it’s blunt in its depiction of him as a highly flawed, even despicable man who hurt a lot of people—emotionally and physically—around him. And this characterization is echoed by members of his family who paint him as an arrogant bully and bore who cheated on his wife who wasn’t above beating friends to a pulp with a baseball bat. At the same time, Junge claims that these characteristics are also a big part of what made him such a fascinating, enduring American icon. Those disgusting traits may have destroyed the relationships with the ones he loved, and eventually, even his career, but it also gave him the guts to put his life and limb on the line for the entertainment of the masses.
Director Daniel Junge was on hand to answer a few questions from the audience after the screening. Although he sounded slightly peeved that his film was scheduled at the same time as the festival’s opening night feature, Junge was in a generally jovial mood, offering up long and informative answers to an enthusiastic crowd. He was born in 1969, the sweet spot of when Knievel became a sensation in the states and sounded like he genuinely respected the icon, even though he admitted that it was difficult to paint him a completely positive light. The major takeaways from the session included the two year production time of the film (from the green light to its world premiere at Sundance in January), his access to Knievel’s private library, as well as the interviewees. He also stated that he has at least six projects in various stages of development, including a surfing film in Jamaica with Robert Redford and Beyond the Brick, which takes a look at the global culture and appeal of LEGOs. Like Being Evel, Beyond the Brick will also open in theaters in July.