Here’s yet another documentary about an influential figure in the film world whose legacy you probably weren’t even aware of until you clicked on this review. Film Hawk tells the story of Bob Hawk, a pioneering producer and consultant who has helped get several budding young independent filmmakers their first shots at festival success throughout a long and illustrious career.
For a film paying tribute to a man who constantly found diamonds in the rough of an ever-growing American indie film scene, it only makes sense that the film (from directors JJ Garvine and Tai Parquet) is a low budget labour of love in the same vein as many of Hawk’s discoveries. It helps give the documentary more of a distinct personality, even as it utilises the familiar talking heads format to delve deep into Hawk’s life and career, with plenty of anecdotes from several decades working behind the scenes.
There are numerous celebrated names from the indie film world who pop in to pay tribute to Hawk. These range from those who he helped to Oscar winning success (director Rob Epstein, who picked up the 1984 Best Documentary award for The Times of Harvey Milk), to those he inspired to move to New York, where they blossomed as artists (such as Ira Sachs, director of Keep the Lights On and Love is Strange).
Hawk was also a champion of transgressive counterculture cinema, celebrating the works of John Waters before his earlier films were even showcased to the general public. It’s in this light that his unexpected friendship with director Kevin Smith (a fact repeatedly referenced within the documentary) makes a lot more sense. After seeing Clerks at its debut screening, where there were only 11 others in the audience, he called every publicist he knew to tell them about the film, which led to the start of a major filmmaking career for Smith. In the mid nineties, Bob Hawk would even go on to briefly live with Smith in the New Jersey suburbs near where he grew up – although the friendship between the director and an elderly gay man still doesn’t excuse the tone deaf approach to LGBT culture in Smith’s 1997 film Chasing Amy.
The documentary aims to balance Hawk’s personal life, such as his frayed relationship with his brother and his ill fated engagement to a woman long after his homosexuality was becoming public knowledge, with his professional achievements. These moments do touch on heavier themes, such as the changing face of homophobia over the ages and Hawk’s own attempts at suicide, but they’re always balanced by gentle comic touches that give you a sense of the warm, welcoming man whose appreciation and support of upcoming filmmakers had no limits.
Film Hawk is a charming documentary about an important figure in American indie cinema, who is finally getting recognition centre stage. It may not be anything groundbreaking stylistically, but for movie lovers, it’s worth seeking out regardless.