Batman has three fingers per hand and only one leg, but he plays basketball like nobody’s business.
The Caped Crusader chases villains at 5 mph on his motorized scooter, his homemade cloth cowl fluttering in a light breeze. He stands less than 4 feet tall. He spends much of his free time hugging patients in children’s hospitals. He is even – let’s say this upfront – a girl who has difficulty walking.
He is you and me and everyone who dreams of being better or braver, more resourceful or more resilient. He is also the subject of the documentary “Legends of the Knight,” which gets a screening Thursday at EpiCentre Studio Movie Grill.
That makes sense. Writer-director Brett Culp interviewed doctors at Southeast Psych, a practice on Piedmont Row South, about his thesis: Those of us facing trouble draw sustenance and inspiration from superheroes, specifically the self-made crimefighter of Gotham. Southeast invested in the movie – it’s one of many executive producers – and Frank Gaskill appears briefly in the picture.
“Batman has been with me my whole life,” says Culp, who’s 37. “My first birthday party was a Batman party. I had the action figures, watched the cartoons, wore a Batman hat on my first tricycle. At 12, I was blown away by the first PG-13 movie my parents let me see: Tim Burton’s ‘Batman.’ The character has evolved as I’ve grown up; as I became a father, the Christopher Nolan movies had social and political relevance that spoke to me on a different level.
“For me, the relatable thing is that he’s in the vein of a Zorro or a Sherlock Holmes. He wasn’t given miraculous powers. He’s a smart, determined human being who came back from adversity.”
The power of inspiration
Batfans know young Bruce Wayne lost both parents to a gunman and used his family’s fortune to pay for a crime-fighting fortress, a suit that made him a human Swiss Army knife and the coolest car in comics.
“Knight” profiles people who have been uplifted by that legend. Danny Scott, the chap missing four fingers and a leg, plays basketball in his Batman shirt. Young Kye Sapp uses the Caped Crusader as a touchstone to get through chemotherapy.
Aficionados post accomplishments small and large. Petaluma Batman, a California college student, does acts of kindness in his homemade suit. Michael Uslan, executive producer of every Batman film (including Nolan’s) over the last 25 years, takes his message to West Point for a commencement speech where he declares, “We are Batman.”
That message resonates at Southeast. Culp knew those doctors because former clinician Pat O’Connor developed Comicspedia, an online tool to help therapists and educators find comic books to use in treatments or classrooms. Culp met others at the clinic, where all the psychologists use superheroes as alter egos, and folks at Southeast decided to support him.
Southeast’s Frank Gaskill, who wrote the inspirational comic book “Max Gamer” for kids with Asperger’s syndrome, says, “I’ll use this film in social skills groups with Aspy kids. They may be feeling alone, excluded, bullied, yet they may have a ‘superpower’ themselves. It’s a powerfully connecting story.”
Colleague Dave Verhaagen says, “A number of clients have told me superhero stories resonated with them. I met a guy who had lost his business in 2008 and had started going to see superhero films to get courage and hope.”
A world of Bat-people
Children, Verhaagen says, don’t see “the nuances of loneliness, the dark corners of Batman’s life. They get the big picture of a resilient, exceptional person who has overcome hard things.”
Nor is this vision limited to boys. Jill Pantozzi of TheMarySue.com speaks in the movie about the way Batman helped her wrestle with muscular dystrophy.
Says Gaskill, “Girls I’ve met who identify with Batman don’t think of him as a man; he’s an archetype. He’s not defined by age, race or gender. Everyone gets him.”
That’s what Culp learned when he put the project on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. Donations rolled in, including two from the Middle East that made Sultan Saaed Al Darmaki and Sultan Al Saud executive producers.
“This film exists because thousands of people all over the world helped make it happen,” says Culp.
“Whether you’re a retired millionaire who sold his business or a 19-year-old in college, you can do something great in your community.”