Zach Levy must hold some kind of lofty status in the pantheon of DIY film distribution: In 2010, he took his documentary “Strongman” on a 450-mile tour of small theaters and one-night stands in Maine, doing what he had to get his film not only in front of audiences but -- just this week -- an overdue release on DVD.
Oh yeah, and that tour? He did it by bicycle.
“It was great,” Levy recalled his week. “Also, at the time, it was a way to get the film out there. The truth is you could rent a car and pay for gas, but looking at it financially, a bike was the only way that made sense.”
He’s still doing it himself: The release of “Strongman” is with Passion River, but “technically, I’m the distributor,” Levy said. “They take a role as sales agent, putting it into the wholesale market.” The Orchard, he added, is handling the digital release.
“Strongman,” which possesses the kind of intimacy that results only from total access and years of filmmaking, is about Stanley “Stanless Steel” Pleskun -- a guy who bends steel with his bare hands, but can’t quite straighten out his own life. Much like Levy, whose film never strays from its strictly observational, total-immersion approach to its subject’s life, Pleskun is a purist: He can’t bring himself to be huckster, a hustler or a self-promoter. He thinks he should be appreciated for the things he does, which he does better than anyone else – bending pennies, lifting dump trucks, or driving nails into boards with his bare hands. But he can’t play the game, and wouldn’t if he could.
Levy has exercised his own brand of obsession in pushing “Strongman,” but it’s paid off in repeat viewers and the attentions of new filmmakers interested in exploring the DIY experience.
“No one’s done a bike tour,” he laughed, “but I get calls from people asking ‘How do we do this?’ When someone overhears you saying you had a 30-city theatrical run and did it by yourself, they prick up their ears. You make a lot of mistakes. I don’t necessarily encourage people to take that road, because there’s no question it’s hard, but for a film like mine it was the only road. How do you get your film out there? DIY can be a way to get a platform.”
He said the film has lasted with a lot of people. “Some will watch it again and again and the only way that happened is that I got it to them in the first place.” Presumably, they’ll buy a DVD, or a download.
And Stanless? “He’s good, I saw him yesterday,” Levy said. “It’s interesting -- at the time, I filmed him in the strength world, the old-time strength world, they didn’t really know how to place him. He didn’t fit the mold.” For instance, Pleskun would often attempt to do things he wasn’t sure he could do; if he failed it would just be part of the show. Other guys would never do anything they didn’t know they could do.
“Now there’s this generation of younger guys who look up to him,” Levy said. “I wouldn’t call him an elder statesman, but there’s a line of strongmen whom he’s influenced. They’re all these blue-collar guys. They don’t come from a purely gimmicky tradition.”