Dedicating your life to art isn’t easy, especially when your ambitions outreach your talent. But, there’s something admirable about failing again and again just to fulfill your vision, even though it won’t win you fame, fortune, or your sanity. The new documentary Create or Die takes a look at what it’s like to spend decades truly suffering for your art — all in the pursuit of brief moments of joy.
Directed by Sarah Massey, in her directorial debut, Create or Die follows David Axe, an independent filmmaker who has accepted the fact that his movies aren’t very good, but he still enjoys making them with his cast of actors and crew of technicians. Told in mostly talking head interviews, Axe talks about his life and his ambition to spend the rest of his life making movies with the goal to make one feature film a year until he actually gets good at making one.
The subject of the documentary is his latest film Acorn, a no-budget B-movie about a director who is dying of cancer and decides to make one last film before she passes away. In a way, Create or Die is structured like an in-depth making-of featurette based on the making of Acorn and a film within a film (within a film) Die Standing Up. And yes, Acorn is a bit on the nose, as a movie about a director who wants to make one long lasting statement, but it rings true to Axe’s sheer passion for cinema and the filmmaking process. It’s commendable.
In that way, Axe is closely tied to other “bad” directors like Ed Wood, Tommy Wiseau, and Neil Breen — filmmakers who don’t have the talent to make a good movie, but the passion to make a movie despite it. While it remains to be seen if Axe is going to live in infamy like those directors, documentarian Sarah Massey, who has worked on other David Axe productions, is certainly positioning his career like it might be.
Create of Die has a heart at its core, as it doesn’t look down or judge its subjects, but rather admires them for sticking to their love for filmmaking. It’s a film about a band of artists working together to create something, even though it won’t be playing at your local cineplex, or win any Academy Awards, or rake in all of the money, it’s something created and made to say the least.
The documentary serves as a love letter to hard work and passion, for everyone involved, despite a life of “embarrassment and failure,” as Axe keenly puts it in the film. After all, life would be pretty boring without passion and love. Moreover, Massey has a knack for bringing that passion and love out in others to tell a story of failure.
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