What looks like pure folly on the part of two struggling filmmakers desperate for a subject develops a life of its own in “Finding Bryon,” Josh Adell and Steve Hicks’ vid-shot docu on the fate of a wannabe actor. Burdened in the early stages by too much self-portraiture, the duo’s quest to discover what happened to one Bryon Elkins turns into a study of a pocket of America drowning in failure. Followers of indie and docu trends should search this pic out at upcoming fests, with specialty cable outlets providing a possible rest stop.
Hicks describes in voiceover how he and Adell, who grew up as filmmaking pals, spent the past 10 years failing in Hollywood. Intrigued by a 1991 audition tape submitted by Elkins at age 17 for a role on “Saved by the Bell” –a tape that was so infamously awful that it was widely used by casting directors as after-hours entertainment — the buddies decide to pack their car and head for Elkins’ hometown in southern Ohio, Byesville, to find out what he’s doing with his life.
Adell admits that the odyssey is pompous and foolish on its face, and, as non-fiction rookies, filmmakers provide no reason to expect that any substantial film will be made of this adventure.
And indeed, for awhile, nothing happens. Elkins is just out of jail for theft and possession and is residing in a halfway home that won’t allow the filmmakers access to him. So, they haul their camera around the undeniably hick town on the fringes of Appalachia, drink beer with Elkins’ sister Michelle, and are coaxed by town intellectual and shrink Bob Orndoff to go back to Los Angeles.
Yet a picture of Elkins emerges as a young gay man with suicidal tendencies and possible personality disorders whose showbiz fantasies once provided his only outlet to imagine an escape from the dead-end burg. Adell and Hicks find that such dreams are common in Byesville.
The filmmakers also discover a lot of the local folks have done time behind bars — even Michelle is arrested during lensing for pot and an expired license –which is almost expected of the poor, uneducated residents who Orndoff harshly describes as the loser children of mine working families stuck in the town when “smarter” neighbors fled for greener pastures.
Adell and Hicks stay in Byesville for three months and keep their camera rolling until they get their man, even if it’s only on the other end of the phone (which makes it all the more dramatic). There’s something admirable about their stubbornness, and, in the end, they encounter failed lives on a scale far greater than they imagined.