Zach Braff's Kickstarter-backed "Wish I Was Here" opens on Friday, so we thought it was a good opportunity to highlight other Kickstarter-funded films from 2014 that deserve your attention. Here's a selection of 9 of our favorites -- you'll notice that some of them have already been released theatrically, a few have just screened at festivals and a couple are set to hit theaters soon. We list them below in alphabetical order.
"An Honest Liar," Dir. Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom
Previously an Indiewire Project of the Week, "An Honest Liar" tells the story you didn't know about the life of James "The Amazing" Randi," a New Jersey musician who gave up his craft to go to the other side and expose the tricks of fraudulent psychics and con-artists. But he also had to cope in his life with a different type of deception after living for nearly three decades as a closeted gay man. This unique subject came with a unique set of rewards in its Kickstarter campaign, heavy on magical themes. The documentary screened at Tribeca this year where it enjoyed a favorable reception.
"Da Sweet Blood of Jesus," Dir. Spike Lee
When Spike Lee launched the campaign for "The Newest Hottest Spike Lee Joint," a film about "Human beings who are addicted to Blood. Funny, Sexy and Bloody. A new kind of love story (and not a remake of "Blacula")," he received a lot of flak. But now that his film is screening for critics, the project can be judged on its own merits. With "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus," Lee consolidates some of the best attributes of both recent efforts to make a mild return to form. A relatively faithful remake of the under-seen 1973 black horror classic "Ganja & Hess," it doesn’t match that movie’s rich treatment of African-American identity, and suffers from some distracting, amateurish qualities associated with the performances and script. But it successfully funnels some of its best ideas through a filter of New York attitude and rage against a society riddled by addiction and socioeconomic problems. In essence, no matter the source material, it's a Spike Lee joint. Read Eric Kohn's full review here.
"Finding Vivian Maier," Dir. Charlie Siskel and John Maloof
This riveting documentary, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, chronicles the life of one of the 20th century's greatest photographers. But it's no ordinary artist biopic, because you've probably never heard of Vivian Maier. Until John Maloof purchased cartons at a storage locker auction and discovered Maier's negatives inside, which he then printed, almost nobody had ever seen a Vivian Maier photograph. A single woman of mysterious origins, Maier seemingly left behind no family and no legacy when she died, apart from the recollections of the now adult children she took care of as a nanny in Chicago.
But just as Maier's prints develop -- exposing a sharp eye and a true talent -- so does Maier's cryptic character and mysterious life story. Directed by Maloof and Charlie Siskel," "Finding Vivian Maier" is an homage to a previously unknown artistic talent, as well as to the forgotten life of Vivian Maier -- which, through her work and this cinematic exploration, is revealed to be a complex and compelling figure -- a chameleon who chronicled the lives of people who, like herself, lived on the fringes of society. This haunting film will leave you to wonder why Maier left her work in storage unseen -- and make you grateful that Maloof discovered it. As a testament to the inherently fascinating subject matter, when the filmmakers turned to Kickstarter for funds, they managed to raise over $105,000 -- way surpassing their $20,000 goal.
"I Am Big Bird: The Carol Spinney Story," Dir. Dave LaMattina, Chad N. WalkerBack in 2005, "I am Big Bird: The Carol Spinney Story" co-filmmaker Dave LaMattina interned at the Sesame Workshop where a colleague introduced him to Spinney's history as Big Bird. LaMattina then teamed up with co-director Chad Walker and executive producer Clay Frost and approached Spinney and The Sesame Workshop with the idea to make a documentary detailing Spinney’s life as a puppeteer. Spinney’s reaction? "I couldn’t resist!" They then turned to Kickstarter where, with the help of some pretty sweet rewards like dinner with Spinney, one of his original sketches, or invitations to video chat with the man behind the bird himself, they raised over $124,000 for the project. "We were able to tap into this amazing audience of people who, like ourselves, grew up on 'Sesame Street' and who wanted to see this movie get made," LaMattinna told Indiewire. Another big money saver was Spinney's wife Deb, who had videotaped practically everything they couple had ever done. Because of her obsession with capturing their lives (boring moments and all) the filmmakers had access to one-of-a-kind footage, without which possibly half of the movie would not exist. The resulting film is a truly charming documentary that takes you back in time through Spinney's 45 year career playing the beloved, giant bird (as well as fan favorite Oscar the Grouch.) Watching it is like stepping back into your childhood, with Kickstarter to thank for the adorable nostalgia.
"Blue Ruin," Dir. Jeremy Saulnier
Since its stateside premiere in theaters and on VOD in late April, Jeremy Saulnier's moody revenge thriller has been growing a fervent audience to match its critical acclaim. Writer-director-
"Little Feet," Dir. Alexandre RockwellBarely an hour long and blatantly made on the cheap, Alexandre Rockwell's "Little Feet" conveys greater emotion and poignancy than most full-length feature films. Rockwell's tender black-and-white portrait of a young sibling pair (played the filmmaker’s kids) evading their bleak home life with a freewheeling outdoor adventure plays like Jim Jarmusch and Wes Anderson teamed up to adapt "Peanuts" into a live action feature. It's a soulful look at the innocence of childhood as a safety net from life's harsher truths. Though indie distributor Factory 25 stepped up to distribute the film theatrically, the deal was contingent on Rockwell being able to pay for music rights as well as other post-production expenses such as final sound mix, color correction, art work and title design and legal fees and insurance. Luckily, he was able to raise the necessary funds through his Kickstarter campaign. "I really do believe if my mentor John Cassavetes were around today, he would have been doing crowdfunding," Rockwell told Indiewire. "He used to make his films by acting in movies. He financed them himself. I think crowdfunding would have been the way he would gone. I think it's exciting. If it works, it's great."
"Obvious Child," Dir. Gillian Robespierre
Gillian Robespierre's feature recreation of her own 2009 short was to be about the story of an ordinary woman, the sort whose absence she had grown frustrated with. Re-teaming with can't-miss comedic wunderkind Jenny Slate, she secured funding from the traditional sources -- executive producers believing in the idea, film non-profits. But after rapping production and being accepted to Sundance, there just still was not enough. That's when Robespierre turned to Kickstarter, whereas a few years ago she would have been out of luck. Enough cannot be said in this space about how good the film turned out (so here's our review). Robespierre mastered the unique Kickstarter pledge-for-rewards system, offering Slate using her talent for voice characters to record voice messages and personal NYC tours from Robespierre and producer Elisabeth Holm. These are the type of personal, natural rewards that match justly well with such an honest piece of comedy.
"Rich Hill," Dir. Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz PalermoTracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo, two cousins whose grandparents hailed from Rich Hill, Missouri wanted to work together on a movie. One had an Emmy on her resume, the other had competed at Sundance multiple times. Their project on the town that serves as such an important identity marker for the both of them is titled "Rich Hill," and it played to great acclaim in Park City this January. Of this Grand Jury Prize winner, our film critic Eric Kohn wrote, "With its constant melancholic tone, which blend voiceovers and somber asides from its characters, 'Rich Hill' often feels like a Terrence Malick movie that trades majestic spirituality for burgeoning teen angst." In their Kickstarter plea, Droz Tagos bluntly said, "We're out of money," so Kickstarter truly saved the project. "Rich Hill" tells the story of this small town (population 1393) by focusing on three boys and telling their tales of growing up and fragile family relationships with gentle honesty.
"Stand Clear of the Closing Doors," Sam Fleischner
In 2009, a 13-year old child of a Mexican-American family living on the outskirts of New York City ran away from home and spent the next 11 days alone riding the subways of the city. He had autism. This tale struck filmmaker Sam Fleischner so deeply that he spent the next two years of his life developing a screenplay to retell the remarkable story. "We all see the world differently, but people on the autistic spectrum are an extreme example," he says in his Kickstarter campaign, "In addition to their heightened sensitivity towards light, sound, touch, and taste, they have great difficulty understanding emotions and interacting socially." The project, which ultimately sought to reach an understanding of this forgotten minority, met its goal and played at the Tribeca Film Festival.(Paula Bernstein, Casey Cipriani, Eric Kohn, Brandon Latham and Zack Sharf contributed to this story).