You’d think it would be a bit easier. True, when actor Daniel Gillies set out to write and direct his first film, he hadn’t yet landed the role that, today, most fans know him for best, in The Vampire Diaires. But it’s not like he was a nobody. He had appeared in major hits like Spiderman 2 and Into the West. And his wife, and co-star of the film, was Rachael Leigh Cook, for goodness’ sake.
Armed with a mysterious, enigmatic, moving script, an incredibly modest budget, and a great deal of passion and enthusiasm, Gillies went out in search of funding, figuring it would be a one to two year project. Seven and a half years later of hard and at times agonizing labor later, Gillies releases Broken Kingdom this week at a red carpet Hollywood premiere presented by Paste. The gala will also feature a screening of Kingdom Come, the documentary that tells the inside story of the ordeal Gillies went through making Broken Kingdom. It’s the Burden of Dreams to Gillies’ Fitzcarraldo, for you Werner Herzog fans.
The documentary also features interviews with other filmmakers, many of them actors, recounting their war stories in trying to get their own indie films made. Illeana Douglas (the Co-Producer of Kingdom Come) chats about her travails in the land of indie, and her recent success creating the critically acclaimed web series Easy to Assemble. Mark Ruffalo recounts a hilarious – and spooky – anecdote about a meeting with a very interesting character to try to secure funding for his directorial debut, Paste favorite Sympathy for Delicious. Kevin Smith is his typically unguarded, shoot from the hip, self-effacing presence. Don Cheadle, Edward Burns, Ron Perlman, Bruce Campbell, and others offer their insights and experiences.
But as interesting as those interludes are, Gillies’ personal journey is even more fascinating. He’s a winning, charismatic character, and impossible not to root for. His unflagging belief in his project is infectious. But as the years drag on and one obstacle after another arises to keep him from his goal, his growing frustration and obsessiveness are fascinating to watch, and his urgency becomes our own.
There’s another character that emerges who becomes, unexpectedly, just as compelling as Gillies himself, if not even more so. It’s probably best to leave his identity a secret for now, but you’ll certainly know who I’m talking about by the end of the film. He embodies a certain hopeless/hopeful recklessness in the pursuit of his dreams, a volatile mix anyone can relate to, but few have the courage to embrace. In the weeks since I saw the documentary I find myself thinking most about him and his journey, wondering what his future holds.
And it’s that mix of hopefulness and hopelessness, that mix of encouraging and discouraging, that makes Kingdom Come a worthy addition to the family of documentaries that began with Herzog’s Burden of Dreams and continued through classics like Hearts of Darkness and Lost in La Mancha. For filmmakers and their families (perhaps especially for their families), there’s a certain relief in seeing someone else on screen going through the same struggles. It’s a long and often lonely road, especially given how difficult it’s become recently even for established actors like Gillies to get even low levels of funding for projects that don’t include explosions, car chases, superheroes, or serial killers. A film like Kingdom Come, more than just a behind-the-scenes story, is a sorely needed shout out of solidarity and empathy with the indie community.
You can see the Paste-sponsored world premiere of Kingdom Come on livestream Tuesday night here.