Local filmmaker undertakes feature-length film on telepathy, Polypore mushrooms
Published: Thursday, March 10, 2011
Updated: Friday, June 3, 2011 15:06
Local filmmaker Jesse Barack explores themes such as pandemics, corporate corruption and reincarnation in his new film about a young telepathic man who travels the world to find answers. Polypore is a feature-length film written, directed and produced by 2010 University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate Jesse Barack. His work has appeared in many film festivals and he has earned numerous awards, including Best Student Film at the 2005 Northampton Independent Film Festival and Best Overall at the 2009 UVC-TV 19 Film Festival. Barack is also a member of the New England independent production company Films Royale, which participated in the production of Polypore.
A grant from the Arts Council at UMass helped fund the film and the university's Independent Film Production Club sponsored it.
The idea for Polypore came about in the fall of 2009. During several hours at the Tunnel Bar, Barack and his friend, Kyle Barry, came up with the original concept: a story about a young man who gains telepathy after ingesting a polypore mushroom.
The initial story features a recent college graduate named Paul Carpenter who, under pressure from his best friend Trent Typhon, uses his newfound telepathic powers to commit robberies. Trent eventually becomes jealous of Paul's abilities, steals the polypore and eats it. But Trent's DNA composition is incompatible with the polypore and he becomes a monster wreaking havoc on Manhattan under the direction of a large biopharmaceutical company. Paul must then kill Trent to save the city and its citizens.
Barack and Barry wanted to create a comedic and quirky explanation for why the polypore - not to be confused with hallucinogenic mushrooms - was atypical. In their original story, the polypore plant was created through the unique combination of a household plant, vodka, vomit and dog saliva. Paul discovers the plant and spills vodka on it after his alcoholic mother pukes on it and the family dog licks it.
"We wanted to have an absurd series of events to justify the fact that the polypore mushroom grew out of this plant," said Barack. "We're not chemists, so we wanted something really humorous so no one would question why this mushroom grew on the plant."
The current script maintains aspects of the initial plot, but Barack changed it significantly since 2009. Though the majority of the plot is currently under wraps to preserve the suspense, Barack said that the film now also features a conflict between guerilla activists and the corrupt Rein Corporation.
Polypore was written as an homage to Katsuhiro Otomo's 1988 film Akira. Otomo's film is set in 2019, almost 30 years after Akira, a young boy who developed psionic powers during government-sponsored ESP tests, accidentally destroys Toyko. Now, bike-gang member Shotaro Kaneda must keep his best friend Tetsuo Shima from releasing the power of Akira and threatening the survival of Neo-Tokyo. As in the original Polypore, Kaneda must eventually kill his best friend to save the city.
Barack remarked that, not unlike Tetsuo in Akira, Polypore "mutated and grew in size to something we never anticipated."
The original story featured only seven characters, but Polypore now calls for over 85 cast members and an ever-growing crew. Those involved with the production have the unique opportunity to contribute in a variety of different ways since Barack owns the film and has complete creative license.
He gives all his actors the chance to contribute their input regarding their character's wardrobe, vocabulary and mannerisms. Barack explained that he does not let actors see the entire script, but rather gives them just enough information to shoot individual scenes.
"Keeping people in the dark about the script helped" said Barack. "It's much more natural, as if they are literally in that present moment . [they] might know about the past, but not the future."
This type of variability also gave Barack and his cast and crew immense freedom during filming.
"Letting the script be liquid allows new opportunities that come along to change the story," said Barack.
Barack filmed Polypore onsite in many cities, including Boston, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Manhattan, Tokyo and Paris. This international collaboration began early on after Barry, who was initially cast as the lead role, decided to return to Tokyo where he had lived for several years. Before he left, Barry was given a camera to shoot some of the scenes featuring his character, Paul. He managed to enlist the help of Japanese filmmakers and friends who shot some of the scenes featuring Paul.
Other crewmembers and actors also had plans to travel, giving Barack the opportunity to rework the script to incorporate scenes featuring their destinations. He explained that this type of widespread collaboration offered a chance to include even more people in the production and spread word about the film.
"My priority is to involve as many people as possible. The more people you have, the more ideas you get," said Barack. "It gives them experience and it's one more person who wants to share this film with everyone they know."
Barack is currently holding a contest for burgeoning filmmakers. The only criteria is that the film be under 10 minutes and relate to one of Polypore's key themes, such as telepathy, reincarnation or pandemics. The winning video will be featured on the Polypore Web site and the winner will receive $100, Polypore merchandise and the title of Associate Producer in the film's credits. The first deadline for submission is April 1.
Polypore is still in the final stages of filming and will soon enter the editing phase, but Barack hopes to enter the finished product into film festivals such as Sundance, Toronto Film Festival and Cannes film festivals.
"I want to get it seen by as many people who would see it and understand it as possible," said Barack.
For more information on Polypore, visit the film's Facebook page at facebook.com/Polypore or at the official Web site at www.polyporefilm.com.