A skillfully crafted, highly entertaining docu about process, personality and perception, "Eleven Minutes" revolves around the charismatic Jay McCarroll, the first "Project Runway" winner, in his real-world bid for fashion fame and fortune.

A skillfully crafted, highly entertaining docu about process, personality and perception, “Eleven Minutes” revolves around the charismatic Jay McCarroll, the first “Project Runway” winner, in his real-world bid for fashion fame and fortune. McCarroll’s media renown has put enormous pressure on him to prove himself more than a boob-tube phenom, particularly in an industry known for its whimsical cruelty. With little money, endless expenditures, no business experience and a lot of talented best buds, McCarroll manages to cobble together a collection for his moment in the spotlight. A working man’s “Unzipped,” this hugely diverting docu struts strong niche appeal.

Shambling, teddy-bearish McCarroll, like some gay Michael Moore, invites the documentary crew — and, by extension, the viewer — to bear witness to his production process and all the contradictions implicit in turning out high fashion on a low budget. McCarroll and his minions scour Canal Street and the Lower East Side for cheap materials, meeting with grommet makers and silkscreen artists to turn his drawings into garments.

No prima donna, McCarroll insists on chronicling the meticulous handiwork of his unpaid colleagues as they concoct jewelry, shoes and wigs to accompany his designs. McCarroll retains his sense of humor as numerous actual and potential disasters parade by, from the vagaries of outsourced Chinese manufacturing to torrential rains on D-Day.

Curiously, it’s when the pic turns its attention to the PR firm working on McCarroll’s show, perversely dubbed “People’s Revolution,” that the contradictions between art and industry, innovation and conformity play out most vividly. McCarroll has already compromised his vision for this first show, highlighting none of the overweight models, women with atrophied limbs or albinos he might prefer. Thus, the suggestions of the PR people, based on years of industry work and codification of the way things “should be” done, prove particularly unwelcome.

Much of the conflict stems from McCarroll’s seat-of-his-pants operation (born, one feels, as much from inclination as from necessity), which relies on the kindness of friends, as opposed to the industry’s dependence on “in” brands.

And everywhere, increasingly, the press congregates. Thrust into the fashion limelight with no schooling or experience, given prominence by a “vulgar” medium and financed by the Humane Society, McCarroll hovers dangerously between darling and buffoon. He alternately describes his collection as being inspired by a ’60s London architectural group, vaginal discharge or hot-air balloons, providing few recognizable hooks for the trendy fashion press.

But this hardly matters to helmers Michael Selditch and Rob Tate, who, having collared McCarroll for an hourlong puff piece on Bravo, welcome the opportunity to film a let-it-all-hang-out expose. Beautifully paced and edited pic, building majestically over an eight-month period to a state of chaotic hysteria where Murphy’s Law reigns supreme, celebrates a triumphant fiasco.

Tech credits are superlative. Lensing creates links between fabrics and dazzling hot-air balloon silks, while the quasi-classical score nicely ratchets up the suspense.

Eleven Minutes

Production

A Zero Point Zero production, in association with Maximum Vacuum. Produced by Michael Selditch, Rob Tate. Executive producers, Lydia Tenaglia, Christopher Collins. Directed by Michael Selditch, Rob Tate.

Crew

Camera (color, 24p), Alex Wolfe, Selditch, Tate; editor, Tate; music supervisor, John Sands; sound, Matt Foglia. Reviewed on DVD, New York, June 10, 2008. (In NewFest, New York; also in Hot Docs, San Francisco Lesbian & Gay film festivals.) Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Jay McCarroll, Nancy Kane, Kelly Cutrone, Lee Deekle, Jason Lowe, Lola Brooks, Anthony Cady, Omahrya Mota, Eve Salvail.
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