Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A.C. Pick: Finding Kraftland

Willy Wonka: Do you know what happened to the boy who got everything he ever wanted?
Charlie: What?
Willy Wonka: He lived happily ever after.

The subject of the documentary Finding Kraftland, Richard Kraft dwells on this moment because it is here where Willy Wonka gives Charlie permission…gives us all permission… to indulge in our wildest dreams. This is perhaps the most succinct thesis statement of the film co-directed by Kraft himself.

Finding Kraftland is one of my favorite films in this year’s Dallas Video Festival. It is the portrait of a bizarre and maddening lifestyle. What happens when a stunted adolescent has all the money in the world? What does he do with it? This documentary allows us to peer into the lives of Richard and his teenage son Nicky, two guys who are smart, capable, and totally unabashedly self-indulgent. Richard Kraft has turned self-indulgence and instant gratification into an art form that is both dazzling and mesmerizing to watch. We begin by inspecting his hordes of hilarious memorabilia from classic shampoo bottles to classic fast food statuary. He collects all things pop culture, because he loves them. But he takes it so much further than that. Imagine taking your son on a rollercoaster tour around the world. Richard and Nicky Kraft do it. Imagine throwing yourselves a double birthday party at the Paramount Theater with 750 guests and a recreation of the amusement park that is your life, Kraftland, in the back lots. Richard and Nicky Kraft do it. The moral of the story is, they pretty much do whatever they want, whenever they want. The ladies love them and so will you.

The film isn’t structured like the typical documentary, no surprise since it was initially made as a home movie. In an interview with Kraft he told me, “It was made to show at my son’s 16th birthday party. We got inspired by a promo film we saw in the hotel room at Disney World. We ended up hiring the host of that to do ours.” Then I asked him how long it took for him to make it, once he got the idea in his head. He said “I act fast. From idea to start about a month. Spent about 3 months editing from 7pm to 3am almost every day.” They had to move fast pinned up against the tight deadline of his son’s sweet 16. The film has since gone through a slight re-editing for the festival circuit and has been racking up comedy and documentary awards all over the country.

So what is it about this story that makes it so worthy of our attention? It could be read as an elongated episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, complete with TV-like host. What is so wonderful, so dare I say magical about Finding Kraftland is the opportunity it gives us to glimpse into lives that are literally dripping with joy – to experience a pure joy that comes not from drugs and sex, but from innocent childhood pursuits all grown up. The love affair between the father and son is perhaps what is most breathtaking. I find myself thrust into fits of jealousy when I’m confronted with the ridiculously well-to-do on episodes of MTV’s Cribs. But when it comes to the Kraft boys I find that I feel amazed and proud that humanity is capable of so much wonder and happiness, it’s touching, moving even. I feel like it could inspire us all to search out a Kraftland for ourselves, a place where we are allowed to live life with the extraordinary passion of the children we all still are inside.


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