Sellebrity: SXSW Review

Doc about celebrity obsession has plenty of access, not enough perspective.

Filmmaker Kevin Mazur goes behind the lens of the flashy world of Hollywood paparazzi.

AUSTIN -- Is it too much to suggest that the topic of commercialized celebrity worship, one of the defining elements of contemporary American culture, might at some point be addressed by a filmmaker who isn't up to his neck in that industry?

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Sellebrity, like the recent Teenage Paparazzo, is a documentary from the inside out. But actor Adrian Grenier, directing the latter film, seemed genuinely eager to understand the shutterbugs who stalk him. Sellebrity director Kevin Mazur, a veteran of the publicity establishment, often seems motivated solely by disdain for the unsanctioned photogs who sell candid pix of celebrities he's busy deifying.

Mazur's connections to the A-list world afford him a strong pool of interviewees, and the film's a good resource for those who want frank talk about life in the spotlight from Jennifer Aniston and Elton John, or to hear Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony describe a desperate, unsuccessful attempt to throw a DIY wedding so modest it wouldn't be ambushed.

Similarly, Mazur speaks with business-side players, from one of the paps who inspired Fellini to the magazine editors who created a competitive marketplace for hit-and-run photography.

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But the doc's first half, with its no-attention-span editing and flashbulb-pop imagery, is so similar in feel to vapid entertainment-news fluff it has a hard time critiquing it. (Occasional onscreen quotes from Sontag and Avedon do little to lend it highbrow cred.)

Things get more substantial later in the film, but the problem of perspective remains: Mazur is understandably critical of TMZ and its ilk (though he does let some shooters defend themselves), but as he recounts the early days of Hollywood image-management, never sees much wrong with the world of artifice and outright lies crafted by people like himself. He's happy to blame civilians who buy gossip rags for creating demand for the photos, but reluctant to investigate why people care about seeing actors walk their dogs in the first place.

Venue: South By Southwest Film Festival, Documentary Spotlight
Production Company: Run Rampant
Director: Kevin Mazur
Producers: Kevin Mazur, Tricia Nolan, Jeff Vespa
Executive producers:  David Wild, Stewart Rahr
Directors of photography: Craig Braden, Jeff Hamby, Tom McGrath, Kate Phelan, Gerald Prezeau, John Simmons
Music: Joel Goodman
Editor: R.A. Fedde
Sales: David Dinerstein
No rating, 89 minutes