What happens when God turns out to be a scruffy-bearded guy in his late 20s living in Baltimore?
That’s the question Marshall Curry asked himself when he took on “Point and Shoot,” a documentary that opens Friday at Ballantyne Village Cinemas. (He’ll host a Q-and-A afterward.) But the former Charlottean, whose work has twice been nominated for Oscars, wasn’t sure how to answer.
He likes to quote a maxim about his craft: “In fiction, the director is God. In documentaries, God is the director.” Spontaneity shapes the final product, and the filmmaker discovers his story as he shoots it. But for the first time, Curry inherited vast amounts of footage someone else had shot – and it came from the potential star of the movie.
Matthew VanDyke, a Baltimore couch potato with OCD, decided to turn himself into an adventurer and left to travel the world on a motorcycle. He befriended hippies in Libya, came home and turned on the TV to see his pals fighting a civil war against Moammar Ghaddafi. He returned to Libya to take part – first by filming events, then by grabbing a gun. Two years later, he contacted Curry and asked him to turn raw footage into a finished film.
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“I’m not positive I was the number one choice,” says Curry, laughing. “He told me he went through the list of people nominated for Academy Awards – a cold-blooded approach, but he’d seen some of my films, too.”
Those might include Curry’s nominees: “Street Fight,” about a rough mayoral race in Newark, N.J., and “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front.” Curry’s also known for “Racing Dreams,” a piece about young competitors in the World Karting Association’s National Pavement Series.
The 45-year-old editor-director likes to profile stubborn people, who persist not only in spite of improbable odds but against common sense. VanDyke qualified. As Curry sifted for a year through the rough footage, he emerged with a portrait of a guy who may have been brave, self-aggrandizing, foolhardy, dedicated or all of the above.
“When he came to New York to meet with my wife and me, I thought, ‘This isn’t someone who just expects to be the subject of an action movie. He’s going to share vulnerabilities and flaws and questions about himself.’
“You go back and forth in the movie about what he wants. It isn’t about my interpretation of Matt or even his interpretation of himself. It’s about how we define manhood, what motivates us to live our lives, how we craft our own images through Facebook and Twitter. I encourage viewers to chew their own food.”
Curry’s family did the same for him. They moved from New Jersey when his dad took a job with Duke Endowment; he spent grades 4 through 8 at Charlotte Latin and Charlotte Country Day schools, before the family returned to New Jersey. His artistic roots were in plays at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and writing classes at Country Day.
Here he met Elizabeth Martin, daughter of civic activists Joe and Joan Martin. They married in 2000, and she helped with films while nourishing her career in the nonprofit world. After merging Womenslaw.org into the National Network to End Domestic Violence, she became a full-time producer on “Point and Shoot” and was credited as one for the first time.
“She dealt with all the contracts and legal questions, making sure everyone got paid, the insurance coverage, incredibly important tasks. It’s not her life’s dream to make movies, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she goes back to another nonprofit project – although documentaries usually turn out to be nonprofit projects!
“It was great to work with her. We completely trust each other’s judgment, and she’s an ally unlike any other you can have. Though when there’s a problem at work, it’s hard to leave it at the office.”
Curry’s now considering a film about former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. Whether it gets made will depend on whether Lewis gives Curry the final decision over what gets into the movie, as VanDyke agreed to do.
“Lennox is very shy and has a sweetness that’s not at all what I imagined (from) a man paid to punch guys in the face. He raises flowers at his home in Jamaica and has young kids. He was unlike my expectations, and that attracted me to him.
“The films I’ve made are always about me wanting to find out about something, having a conclusion and challenging it. I make them about the parts of a subject I haven’t decided about yet.”