Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation
dir. Eric Zala
Fri Dec 10 and Sat Dec 11 at the Northwest Film Forum.

How do you get a boulder out of your bedroom? If you're the adolescent Chris Strompolos and his partners Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb--three budding filmmakers who had neglected to measure the width of the bedroom door--you build another, and another, and another, until an eventual total of five would be built.

These boulders were props constructed for a shot-for-shot childhood remake of the first Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Strompolos produced and starred, Zala directed, and Lamb was responsible for camerawork and effects. The kids worked in Biloxi, Mississippi, from 1982 to 1988, shooting on home video. They went to great lengths to duplicate the original film--including that rolling boulder, and a sequence shot on a World War II submarine. And now Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, the resulting full-length feature, is set for a rare public screening in Seattle. Project originator Chris Strompolos will attend both screenings.

The completed film was originally shown once or twice, to family and friends, and then put aside. Cast and crew grew up, the film largely forgotten and never discussed. It came as a surprise to the filmmakers, now in their 30s, when Cabin Fever director Eli Roth tracked them down and arranged for a 2003 "world premiere" at a film festival in Austin, Texas. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation was well received, and word quickly spread, eventually catching the eye of a writer for Vanity Fair. The resulting 10,000-word article interested several Hollywood producers, and before the magazine was off the rack the trio had sold the film rights for their story to producer Scott Rudin. In November, Ghost World's Oscar-nominated creator, Daniel Clowes, was announced as the project's writer.

Speaking with Strompolos by phone, he tells me that when interest in their remake began, he was ready. "I locked down a really good team of people here in Los Angeles, and all the while Jayson and Eric and myself stayed in very close contact with one another," he says. "Then the Vanity Fair article hit and, sure enough, we got into a bidding war."

The excitement of the past year contrasts with the actual experience of making the film as teenagers, when they were "surrounded by people that consistently doubted us or made us feel silly." There was a "feeling of dread," Strompolos says. "Like, a 'Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this?' that happened while we were making it."

As we talk, Strompolos mentions his first exposure to the original Raiders as a 10-year-old, when he was visiting his father in Chicago. Strompolos' parents divorced when he was 3. He was not alone. "Jason, Eric, and myself were all products of broken families," he says. "There was a sort of escape quality about [the film], and in making Raiders that feeling gained momentum for the three of us. We were all being raised by single mothers. Our fathers were not around. And so, from a psychoanalytical standpoint..."

Here he trails off. The implication is that, in a way, Indiana Jones became his father; by "playing Indiana," as he calls it, he was also discovering how to be a male. "I was trying to discover a much more masculine side of myself, and incorporate a male presence into my life, by inhabiting the skin of what I thought it meant to be a guy," he says.

The NWFF-bound copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation was digitally struck from the original broadcast-tape master created in 1988. It's definitely lo-fi, shot by kids on 1980's consumer-grade video gear (adjust your expectations accordingly). Since the film was shown in Austin, there have only been "four or five" public screenings. This is probably the only opportunity Seattle audiences will have to see the film for years, if not forever.

Today, Strompolos is pleased and bemused by the adventure ride he and his friends are on. That boulder may not be stuck in his current bedroom anymore, but it's clearly not gone. He signs his e-mails with these words: "Chris Strompolos, Producer. Rolling Boulder Films."

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