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culture

Duplass Brothers Make Documentary Debut

Kevin tells the story of Austin musician Kevin Gant.

The Duplass brothers have carved out an interesting niche for themselves in the film community. They were instrumental in the so-called Mumblecore movement, with cost-effective gems like The Puffy Chair and Baghead paving the way for bigger ventures like 2010′s underrated Cyrus and last week’s opening of Jeff, Who Lives At Home. Jay takes the directing reins on their first documentary foray, Kevin, with Mark serving as executive producer. The film makes its Canadian premiere tonight at NFB Cinema as part of the CMW Film Fest.

The short documentary’s subject is singer-songwriter Kevin Gant, a performer who first came to the filmmakers’ attention while they were attending film school in Austin, Texas in the ’90s. Gant is wide-eyed, with a friendly smile, and his music is an interesting mish-mash of folk strumming, flamenco guitar flourishes, and spiritual lyrics delivered in an unpredictable, free-flowing cadence. It’s easy to see what would have drawn the Duplass siblings to Gant at the time. Their aim in the film is to determine what became of the entertainer since his disappearance from the scene in 1995.

Gant works for UPS, exercises regularly with radical martial arts techniques, and has not played music in ages. Accentuated by a tense re-enactment, Gant relates his experience of venturing out to California, culminating in a violent altercation with relatives who had first offered him a place to stay. Despondent, he returned home to Austin and stopped playing music altogether. Back in the present day, the director offers to bring Gant along to a film festival in Grenada, the birthplace of flamenco—a transformative experience that ultimately rejuvenates his need for song.

Clocking in at just over half an hour, the film exemplified some of the difficulties of stepping into the documentary genre. At the outset of many productions, the story, in many ways, has yet to be written, and the best films often manage to capture events that could not have been foreseen prior to turning on the cameras. Here, perhaps because of the Duplass’ narrative background, there seemed to be an attempt to steer the story in a certain direction and, though the desired end result appears to be achieved, it did leave us with a few unanswered questions.

Despite Gant finding himself much busier these days, we managed to catch up with him somewhere between his frequent stops and clarify a few of these issues.

Torontoist: Did you ever meet Jay or Mark in the ’90s when Jay was attending film school in Austin?

Gant: Jay and Mark never introduced themselves to me. As Jay describes it, he was a college student at the University of Texas, Mark came down from New York to visit and they went to 6th street to check out some music. I happened to host an open mic at a venue called the Chicago House. They peeked inside and heard me perform half a song.

What was it that initially drew you to flamenco music and that you felt connected to on a spiritual level?

I just turned 50 on March 16th. As a teenager during the ’70s, a popular sitcom, Chico and the Man, was on TV. The music intro was Jose Feliciano singing and playing guitar—fascinating, soulful guitar poetry. I’ve never (formally) learned flamenco, or any style, just tried the best I could, playing by ear.

Do you feel that you would have gotten back into music if it weren’t for the documentary?

When Jay contacted me via email, I thought he just did little homespun films as a hobby—he never made any mention of Hollywood. When I found out three months later who “the Duplass brothers” were and what they do, I felt like the black, 50-year-old version of Cinderella! Jay Duplass contacting me re-ignited my pursuit of my lifelong singular dream. It just so happens that the Duplass brothers are the greatest movie directors/producers that ever lived.

How is the music going these days? What’s happened in your life since the cameras stopped rolling?

The cameras are never going to stop rolling! I’m going to tour the world forever!

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