Film Hawk (Melbourne Documentary Film Festival)
Robert Hawk, Kevin Smith
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A portrait of an independent movie ‘guru’ who somehow has managed to keep his ‘finger on the pulse of independent cinema.’
A celebration of an obscure yet central figure, Film Hawk is an intimate biographical documentary about independent film producer, festival programmer and film consultant extraordinaire Bob Hawk. No, not the former Prime Minister of Australia, Bob Hawke… Robert Hawk was an instrumental and early champion of filmmakers such as Kevin Smith (Clerks, 1994), Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullen, 1995), feminist Barbara Hammer (Schizy, 1968), Kimberly Reed (Prodigal Sons, 2008) and Scott McGehee and David Siegel (Suture, 1994). In a career that’s spanned several decades, Hawk was – and still is – a crucial behind-the-scenes influencer, with superb instincts for spotting and shaping burgeoning cinematic talent.
Brimming with obsessive movie fandom, JJ Garvine and Tai Parquet’s co-directed documentary premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. The pair are former clients of Hawk, so it’s no surprise that they take a hagiographical approach to relating the film producer’s life and storied career. The enthusiastic doco outlines Hawk’s early years of grappling with a speech disorder (stuttering) and growing up the closeted gay son of a Methodist minister, eventually and sensitively charting his coming out as a gay man in an initially hostile environment until he relocates to the more gay-friendly environment of San Francisco during the ’70s. It traces his youthful theater career, right up to his (still current at age 75+) vocation as a consultant on some of the most influential independent films of our time.
The film kicks off with indie filmmaker and comic book writer Kevin Smith (of Clerks etc. fame), heroically filmed from below as he tearfully describes his break into the industry, as assisted by Hawk. Directors JJ Garvine and Tai Parquet enlist several notable indie filmmakers to extol the virtues of Hawk, each relating a personal tale of miraculous success in a cutthroat industry. Everyone speaks of him in glowing terms, forming a portrait of an independent movie ‘guru’ who somehow has managed to keep his “finger on the pulse of independent cinema.”
With his own company (called Film Hawk – natch) Hawk has been a fixture of the independent film scene for over 30 years as a consultant and a producer. Hawk served on the Advisory Selection Committee of the Sundance Film Festival from 1987-1998 and his influence extends in innumerable ways throughout the independent film world. His formidable clout is evident in how he’s been instrumental in bringing independent movies to the awareness of the programming committees of various international film festivals including Cannes.
So ‘connected’ is Hawk that he quietly wields serious influence to this day. Garvine and Parquet incorporate flashes of behind-the-scenes filming moments to punctuate the interviews, perhaps to alleviate boredom. There’s no denying this unknown yet hugely important subject deserves the biopic treatment. Truthfully, though, Bob Hawk as a documentary subject will struggle to be of relevance to anyone but the true film geek.