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by Indiewire
March 11, 2010 6:30 AM
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SXSW '10 | Harlock & Thomas' "American: The Bill Hicks Story"

Co-Directors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas present their Emerging Visions "American: The Bill Hicks Story" while pushing documentary storytelling in a new direction - "Much more than a comedian, Bill Hicks was and still is an inspiration to millions. His timeless comedy tackled the contradictions of America and modern life head on, as he skewered organized religion, railed against the hypocrisies of his government and exposed the collusion of the mainstream media, earning him censorship in the USA, but whose messages continue to resonate with subsequent generations…'American' uses a stunning new animation technique to bring the tale of one of modern culture's most iconic heroes to the big screen.

American: The Bill Hicks Story
Emerging Visions
Directors: Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas
Producers: Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas
Music: Mark Daniels
Editor: Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas

Paul and Matt introduce themselves and their work…
We're Paul Thomas and Matt Harlock - director/producers from the UK. Although this is our first feature, Paul had been making TV comedy and entertainment shows for too many years, and Matt had been making drama for British TV and developing feature scripts. We¹d both been looking to do something a bit more substantial and meaningful when this project came along.

On realizing Bill Hicks' story had never fully been told…
Bill Hicks is already a huge American cultural icon in the UK, and around the world, but had never seen that recognition in the States as his material challenged accepted ways of thinking. Matt had done a London tribute night for Bill, and as well as uncovering some rare and unseen footage of Bill, had got to know the Hicks family. It was at that point that we met and realized that the amazing life story of this groundbreaking comedian had never fully been told. Using Paul¹s TV background, we began formulating ways to tell Bill¹s story.

On determining their approach to telling the story…
As Bill's story was so unique, the challenge was in finding a strong enough new way to tell it. We knew there was a huge archive of photos of Bill and so the idea of an animated photographic storytelling approach arose, eschewing talking heads and allowing the viewer to be fully immersed into the world of the characters, much closer in form to a narrative method. Little did we know that this choice would take our every spare penny and waking moment over the next 4 years of our lives!

On the importance of gaining the trust of Bill's family and friends in order to tell the story…
Bill's family and friends had never all spoken to one team before, and the initial challenge was in convincing them that we were trustworthy enough to take on the huge responsibility of telling Bill's story, but gradually they all realized that this emotional journey we were asking them to go on was an important historical document that would become part of the cultural timeline of comedy. Our emotional journey was however just starting, as we realized that whilst the animation technique promised new possibilities with every scene, it took forever!

On Bill Hicks' Texan roots and his connection to Austin…
Bill and Austin have a special connection. Hicks was a Texan through and through, raised in Houston and he played Austin throughout his life ­ much of the footage in the film is shot there. He is considered by many to be one of the most important stand ups America ever produced, and his following in Austin still thrives today, perhaps only equalled by the love with which he is held in the UK. We are incredibly proud to be bringing Bill back to Austin ­ as America is still where this fearless comedian's voice most needs to be heard. Above all though, his is the human story of an artist who had to overcome great obstacles, personal and professional, to try and make the world a better place. As such, its for everyone.

On the inspirations behind "American"…
Films like "The Kid Stays in the Picture" were important in showing what the documentary form could be if pushed, but we hope we have taken things a few steps further. "Lenny" is inspirational in that the bravery and fearlessness of the main character informed the unique approach. Bill's uncompromising comedy teased apart the essence of religion, the dangers of unbridled government power and big business, and identifying the double standards in modern society meant that his career came second always to his principles ­in many ways, Bill himself was the main inspiration.

On the next phase for "American"…
We have several projects in development, but we still have plenty to do to finish this one first, including preparing for our release in the UK in May. Completing this project for us also requires getting the film out to an American audience, giving Bill his rightful place in the culture through this truly archetypal American story - a challenging examination of free speech and what it means to be...American.

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