'Film Hawk': Sundance Review

Courtesy of Sundance Institute
'Film Hawk'
A pleasing visit with a keen-eyed pathfinder for American independent filmmakers.

An intimate look at the life of a man who shepherded the careers of and selflessly championed filmmakers such as Kevin Smith and Edward Burns.

Behind-the-scenes indie film guru Bob Hawk gets his close-up in Film Hawk, a warm tribute to a man who, for 40 years and often selflessly, has helped a host of aspiring filmmakers make their way to Sundance, the Oscars and other stepping-stones to success. This is a natural for other festivals, and notably those with a gay slant, as there's a good deal here not only about gay independent cinema but about the subject's own personal journey. Streaming and cable are other possible destinations.

Age 75 when young documentary makers JJ Garvine and Tai Parquet trained their cameras on him beginning at a New York birthday dinner, Hawk resembles a grown-up cherub, with his bald head and ample belly accompanied by a disarmingly halting way of speaking that has its origins in a childhood speech impediment. The son of a preacher, the youngster soon found that the only time he could speak without a stutter was when he delivered lines in a play.

The other key youthful discoveries he mentions both came courtesy of seeing Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood, which simultaneously awakened in him a love of cinema as well as the realization that he was attracted to the company of men. The documentary's primary focus remains Hawk's work on behalf of cinema, but plenty of time is reserved for things like visiting Divine's grave in Baltimore to stories of his misguided engagement to a Southern belle cheerleader in college and of raunchy New York boy parties back in the day where Liza Minnelli was the only woman in attendance.

Giving total credit to Hawk for making his career when all seemed lost, Kevin Smith opens the film by explaining at considerable length how the man navigated him from utter obscurity to overnight success with Clerks. “He really seemed to have his finger on the pulse of independent film,” the hockey jersey-wearing director correctly points out, as the doc then jumps back two decades to spotlight Hawk's arrival in San Francisco and his ongoing work mentoring director Rob Epstein through the prolonged making of the early gay-themed documentaries Word Is Out and The Life and Times of Harvey Milk.

Hawk is described at one point as “a great note-giver,” and his special role, in addition to paving the way to festivals, came in guiding, shaping and suggesting ideas to young artists in whom he believed. Barbara Hammer, Kimberly Reed, Scott McGehee, David Siegel and Ira Sachs deliver encomiums, but by far the longest tribute is paid by Edward Burns, whose 1995 debut feature The Brothers McMullen cost $28,000 and, once taken under the Hawk's wing, was shepherded to Sundance, where it won the grand jury prize, became the first acquisition for the brand new Fox Searchlight and went on to gross more than $10 million.

Toward the end, Film Hawk makes an effort to get more personal, addressing such matters as how Hawk was sometimes fairly compensated for his contributions and other times was not, his financial precariousness, the abrupt and unexplained end to one long-term business affiliation, his last-minute reprieve from a planned suicide while suffering from depression in Los Angeles in 1995 (the only time it's mentioned that he ever lived in L.A.), his tenancy at Smith's house for two years thereafter and his current living circumstance in New York in a small place with a bed, dresser and cartons which he refused to allow the filmmakers to visit. His friends worry about him, it's said.

As this effort by Garvine and Parquet to become intimate with their subject rather than just friendly didn't really pan out, it's questionable that they should have gone there at all so late in the game. What's important here is Hawk's contribution, which was the result of love and passion for films and his desire and selfless efforts to shepherd work he cared about to a public that would appreciate them. In this, Bob Hawk has clearly succeeded, to the point where one readily believes him when he contentedly confides that, “I have lived a full life.”

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Documentary Premieres)
Production: Hollydogfilms
With: Bob Hawk, Edward Burns, Rob Epstein, Barbara Hammer, Kimberly Reed, Kevin Smith, Scott McGehee, David Siegel, Ira Sachs
Directors-writers-producers: JJ Garvine, Tai Parquet
Executive producers: Gerald Herman
Director of photography: David “Daps” Reinert
Editor: Tai Parquet

Not rated, 80 minutes