SXSW review: ‘Raiders!’ looks at ‘the greatest fan film ever made’

First, some context and backstory: Starting in 1982, three 12-year olds in Mississippi, Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, and Jayson Lamb, started to make a shot-for-shot remake of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

The filmmakers profiled in "Raiders!"

The filmmakers profiled in “Raiders!”

It took all seven summers of their childhood.

Using the real movie’s script and shot out of sequence, actors in “Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation” (as it came to be known) appear at different ages from scene to scene.  It premiered in 1989 in Gulfport, Miss. auditorium and everyone went their separate ways.

The movie attained legendary status over the course of the 1990s, a tape-trading classic before being given a proper theatrical première at the Austin in 2003 at Harry Knowles Butt-Numb-a-Thon after filmmaker Eli Roth passed him a copy. Eventually, even Steven Spielberg gave the thing his imprimatur.

But they never did get that last shot, the famous exploding airplane sequence.

Until now.

In 2014, the filmmakers, now in their 40s, raised money on Kickstarter to film that last shot. Directed by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen, “Raiders!,” which made its world première Saturday at SXSW Film, is the story of the movie, the filmmakers and that elusive final scene.

“Raiders!” switches back and forth between the past and the present, from the unsupervised summers that yielded this hunk of classic American outsider art to contemporary struggles that stand in the way of their oddball (yet incredibly awesome) dream.

Zala, a comics nerd “driven to make films” directed, Strompolos, who said he had a largely interior life after his parents’ ugly divorce, played Indy and Lamb, the “creative oddity” did the effects. (He is naturally upset when his interest in doing the lost shot with miniatures is, well, shot down, and still doesn’t think he received enough credit.)

As one cast member puts it, the kids often found adults to work with who were even less responsible than they were. And they didn’t exactly keep their parents well-informed about what they were doing in the woods, either.

Would something like this even be possible in the age of helicopter parenting and parents being arrested for letting their kids wander around the neighborhood?

In 2014, they decide it is time to do the final scene, the famous airplane sequence where Indy fights the giant German guy while dodging rotors. The plane eventually explodes. It is very, very dangerous. They want something like a real plane. They raise enough money, they have nine days to shoot 124 shots. It’s on.

It’s clear that some wounds remain. All three were young men looking for decent father figures; they turned to making this movie for emotional sustenance. Strompolos and Zala both had a crush on Angela Rodriguez, the gal who played Marion (whom they convince to reprise her part in 2014!).

Time treated them all differently. Zala has to beg his job for time off to pursue this dream (those scenes are particularly wrenching, especially when day after shotting day is rained out, throwing their production wildly off schedule) while Strompolos struggled with drug and alcohol abuse (and being in what looks like a fairly terrible metal band).

And how about the legitimately deadly explosives they have to use? (Spoiler: nobody….well, nevermind.)

While yacking about the brilliance of “Adaptation” from Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League, Roth, Knowles and others pushes the run time a little long, “Raiders!” is a decent look at the story-behind-the-story.

“Raiders!” screens again noon Monday at Alamo Slaughter, 9 p.m. Thursday at Alamo Lamar  and 9:45 p.m. Friday at Vimeo.


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