As much as I like a good, muckraking documentary that I can agree with and get all angry about, the documentaries that really stick with me are of a more intimate kind. Some are about someone fascinating enough that, if someone hadn’t decided to make a film about him/her, it seems one would just spontaneously generate itself — films such as “Man On Wire” or “When We Were Kings,” for example.
But others sneak up on you.
They’re about people who, from the outside, don’t seem to warrant their own documentary but who, as you watch their stories, become more and more mysteriously fascinating.
Directors specializing in such films, such as Errol Morris (“Fast, Cheap and Out of Control,” “Gates of Heaven”), the Maysles Brothers (“Grey Gardens,” “Salesman”) and Werner Herzog (“Grizzly Man,” “The White Diamond”) are drawn to largely ordinary people whose pursuit of a personal obsession gradually reveals a lot about them and the human condition.
Which brings us to “Strongman.”
The oddly-touching tale of real-life strongman Stan “Stanless Steel” Pleskun, director Zachary Levy’s film takes its place firmly alongside the aforementioned. It’s by turns moving, cringe-inducing and revelatory as it follows the driven but childlike and unrefined Pleskun in his attempt to make a living, and a reputation, from his physical gifts.
Levy, who’s bringing “Strongman” back to Maine after capturing the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, can also, perhaps, relate to Pleskun’s quest.
While winning such a prestigious award would seem to be a ticket to the filmmaking big time, Levy, like Stanless Steel, finds himself relying on thrift and ingenuity to achieve his particular dream.
And muscle power.
Levy is appearing in person for a Q&A at the Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville tonight (railroadsquarecinema.com), the Alamo Theater in Bucksport on Sunday (www.oldfilm.org) and the Magic Lantern Theater in Bridgton on Aug. 12 (www.magiclanternmovies.com). He is traveling to each event on his bicycle. It’s partly an environmental issue, according to Levy, but mainly because, awards or no, he’s just plain broke.
A man believing in his dreams and willing to undergo great personal hardship to achieve them? Sounds like the makings of a great documentary.
Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.