Chris Strompolos and the boulder in Raiders!:The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (Drafthouse Films)

Chris Strompolos and the boulder in Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (Drafthouse Films)

Most filmgoers, at one point or another, have seen movies that have changed their lives. But after Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos saw the action adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark, it became their lives. As 11-year-olds in 1981, both were utterly enchanted by the exploits of Indiana Jones, and they spent the next eight summers re-creating their favorite film shot for shot. Filmmakers Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen detail the making of this extraordinary project. At a time when fan fiction and fan films are more prevalent than ever, largely thanks to the ease of recording and uploading video in the Internet age, this film is a welcome look back to what it took to create passionate fan culture in a thoroughly analog age.

The lack of resources inspired Zala and Strompolos to come up with imaginative ways to make their vision come alive, instead of stifling their creativity. The main drama of the documentary revolves around the quest to film the one scene that the two left out of their original eight-year filmmaking process, the famous scene where Indiana Jones battles a Nazi behemoth in front of a propeller plane, with gas leaking everywhere and the plane exploding as Indie makes his daring escape. The logistics of the scene were too much for even the most energetic and resourceful youngsters to pull off.

So we see them make a surprisingly successful series of pitches to investors, pulling in $5,000 here and a few more thousand over there—apparently there are more wealthy people with a keen interest in fan culture than one might think. Through the process of funding and filming this final bit, the two fanboys can finally put an end to their lifelong obsession.

To its credit, the documentary takes a clearheaded view of this unusual endeavor. The fixation on Zala’s and Strompolos’s early adolescence is examined a bit, especially through their parents who chided them for spending so much time and energy on the film project, potentially to the detriment of developing other skills, hobbies, and interests. One father even makes the sensible point that it seems odd to spend so much time making a movie that had already been made. But Zala’s young son provides perhaps the best evidence that the whole effort was thoroughly worthwhile. He says that it took Steven Spielberg millions of dollars to make his version of Raiders, but it took his dad comparatively only a few bucks.

Raiders! is as clear a statement as readily comes to mind that art really exists for the audience. It’s a way of really capturing the essence of beloved characters right—like the wildly popular Spider-Man fan film on YouTube that was a response to the off-key Marc Webb films—and for fans to express what are so clearly and obviously the coolest parts of favorite films. For all that enormous, multinational corporations can accomplish, they have an uncanny knack for totally screwing up things like characterization and tone, qualities that hardcore fans intuitively understand. Now with the advent of digital technology, fans can show corporate studios what is really most important. Raiders! is a testament to the power of fan culture and a celebration of its permanent place in the media landscape.

Produced and Directed by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen
Released by Drafthouse Films
USA. 100 min. Not rated