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Slamdance Review: Fascinating Documentary ‘Elliot’ Tackles The Illusion Of Truth

Slamdance Review: Fascinating Documentary 'Elliot' Tackles The Illusion Of Truth

Who is ElliotWhite LightningScott? Well, that depends on who you ask. According to the man himself, he’s Canada’s next (first?) Jackie Chan, an action hero waiting in the wings, with multiple awards for his marital arts prowess. But Elliot isn’t waiting around for other people to make things happen for him. He’s an amateur filmmaker too, the writer/director/star of films such of low-budget wonders as “Stalker And The Hero” and “They Killed My Cat” that have a minor cult following due to how courageously awful they are. But his dreams are big, and Elliot thinks his next movie, “Blood Fight,” could break him into the big time, especially with a potential distributor already waiting, one that will open a possible door to the offices of Warner Bros. (eventually). But that’s what Elliot says. So who is he really? With their documentary “Elliot,” directors Jaret Belliveau and Matthew Bauckman intend to find out.

Spread across two years in the life of Elliot Scott, from the outset, the film seems like it will fall into the “American Movie” category of documentaries, tracking the ambition of those with fantasies of great things, who are often stymied by their (lack of) talent and circumstances. And initially, it’s easy to fall under the spell of Elliot. A relentless self promoter, he sets up his own autograph signings and martial arts demonstrations in order to hustle his DVDs, all while continuing work on “Blood Fight,” which will contain his biggest and most dangerous stunts yet. But his plans can only go so far as his resources are few. Elliot doesn’t even own a proper camera, shooting his movie using the video function on a digital camera, and editing it on his laptop. But as they say, behind every man is a woman, and Elliot is lucky to have Linda Lum.

As Elliot’s girlfriend, financial support, transportation and more, Linda’s patience is superhuman, though almost from the start of the documentary, we can see it unraveling. Awaiting a marriage proposal from the reticent Elliot, and eager to start a life with him that doesn’t revolve around his moviemaking efforts, her role is more paternal than partner. She’s the one that sets up the boundaries between which Elliot is able to pursue his work without the intrusion of the real world. But one can only keep it from the door for so long, and once Elliot starts acupuncture school (at the insistence of Linda), we see a darker side to the goofball charmer, one that paints his enthusiasm for kung fu, Asian culture and more in a questionable light, while also raising concerns about the narrative he presents for himself. 

If the first two acts of “Elliot” play by the traditional standards you would expect from a movie chronicling the eccentric obsessions of a marginal figure, it’s the third act where the true objectives of Belliveau and Bauckman come to light. To their credit, they are never condescending or cruel toward Elliot, nor creating a documentary at the expense of the dignity of their subject. But it’s when they go from observers to participants in the film, that the directors cross over a line that sends up red flags about everything that came before. It’s something that would be unfair to spoil, but as questions are raised about the veracity of Elliot’s claims (including his tragic background), so too does the documentary present scenarios that either seem staged, or that are hard to believe would be captured naturally. Again, to say more would be to ruin the experience, but that’s also the point: the dramatic finale of “Eliot” is so surprising, it will undoubtedly get audiences talking about what they just saw, and if it had been exaggerated or provoked to provide a potent finale to the movie.

While it’s not close to the level of “Stories We Tell” in terms of commenting on the reliability of narrators and the cozy comfort of dishonesty to smooth over thornier life issues, the finale of “Elliot” is murky enough to leave folks guessing as to the true motivations of the entire film. It’s a conversation starter, one that will certainly have many debating about the goals of the filmmakers, and about where the line is between truth, fiction and acceptable delusion. Elliot himself seems to have found a balance for all three, but it has consequences, adding a much needed human note to the doc which gives it a greater depth that you’d expect, one that is undeniably compelling. Indeed, almost everyone in the film is character right out of a Jared Hess film, from Elliot’s best friend/actor Blake Zwicker to his fellow classmates Glen Koshi and Ravee Chen (who provide a deadpan hilarious counterpart to Elliot’s claims). But once the credits roll, the answer to who is Elliot “White Lightning” Scott remains intriguingly unclear. [B]

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