On The Lot's high-profile ratings woes surprised a lot of people, partly because of the pedigrees of producers Steven Spielberg and Mark Burnett, and partly because the struggles of aspiring filmmakers have proven a fertile subject for non-fiction sleepers like American Movie and Overnight. The DVD release of the 2004 IFC documentary series Film School pours salt in Lot's gaping wounds by illustrating just how little it takes to make the travails of would-be filmmakers fascinating. The brainchild of The Kid Stays In The Picture co-director Nanette Burstein doesn't boast celebrity judges or elaborate challenges, just three real-life NYU film students with outsized personalities and a mad passion to realize their idiosyncratic creative vision. (A fourth drops out early on.)
There's Leah, an artsy provocateur who creeps out viewers by holding slumber parties, filming sexually suggestive scenes with a minor, and playing truth-or-dare with the 16-year-old star of her autobiographical short. Then there's Vincenzo, a mercurial Italian opera director with an eye for the ladies, and Alrick, a commitment-averse African-American whose politically charged short transforms the police shooting of Amadou Diallo into an audacious comic-book allegory about a black superhero named "Super Nigger."
The stunning cluelessness of Vincenzo's wannabe producers provide welcome comic relief in outlandish sequences in which they propose raising money from Federico Fellini (who died in 1993) and deem a West Coast fundraising trip that netted $120 a success because $20 of that came straight from Henry Winkler's wallet. The show's attitude toward its plucky upstarts alternates between empathy and satirical, mean-spirited detachment, like when it repeatedly points out the age of Leah's lead actress during her make-out scenes. The show amply conveys the passion, commitment, and obsession that goes into making even a 10-minute student film, which makes it all the more frustrating that it never shows the students' films in their entirety. (Even more egregiously, the shorts aren't included on the show's no-frills DVD, either.) School lacks a satisfying conclusion, yet it's a measure of the show's success that it makes watching a trio of dodgy-sounding student films such a perversely appealing prospect.
Key features: None.