US watches film portraying Shyamalan as mysterious
documentary on filmmaker Manoj Night Shyamalan seeking to portray him as a mysterious, shaman-like figure with other worldly connections was broadcast nationwide by SciFi channel in the US.
By Mayank Chhaya, IANS
The documentary spicily titled "The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan", according SciFi's website, offered "a revealing look that lays bare the external forces which have helped shape" the filmmaker's vision.
The documentary's broadcast came amid claims by its makers that "viewers will witness extraordinary unguarded moments, as well as attempts by the acclaimed filmmaker to shut down the production".
The documentary had moments where the filmmaker appeared clearly upset at the direction in which its Oscar-nominated director Nathaniel Kahn was going. The film tried to create a mysterious aura about Shyamalan, suggesting at one point that during a childhood accident the filmmaker nearly died of drowning in an icy pond near his home in Philadelphia.
The SciFi channel's website says what "started as a normal documentary" ended up capturing details "you were never meant to know".
But the channel reportedly admitted later that the controversy was created as part of a "guerrilla marketing campaign".
In a statement to IANS through his publicist Leslee Dart, Shyamalan appeared to play down the controversy. "I had a great time working with the SciFi channel on this project. They are extremely innovative and enthusiastic and have had several great successes by thinking out of the box," the filmmaker said.
"I was, of course, involved in the production of the special but had nothing to do with the marketing of it. If the SciFi channel erred in their marketing strategy, it was totally out of enthusiasm," he said.
Kahn, who was nominated for an Oscar for his documentary "My Architect" on his world renowned architect father Luis Kahn, and producer Callum Greene were commissioned by SciFi in October last year to do the documentary.
Somewhere along the line Kahn began constructing a case about Shyamalan which wittingly or unwittingly projected him as an enigmatic man driven by occurrences in his own life to make his films.
Towards the end of the documentary when Kahn suggests to a reluctant Shyamalan if his movies were autobiographical rather than fictional, the latter terminates the interview saying "What are you doing?"
After the astronomical box office successes of "The Sixth Sense", "Unbreakable" and "Signs", the 33-year-old Shyamalan has been hailed in the American media as the next Steven Spielberg. His latest venture, "The Village", tells the story of an isolated village "confronting an astonishing truth that lies just outside its borders".
The documentary, which was originally meant to delve into Shyamalan's style of filmmaking, instead concentrated on digging out pieces of information that added up to create a personality that was not altogether flattering.
In order to achieve the effect, Kahn shot the film like Shyamalan himself would, complete with eerie music and haunting visuals.
Kahn also focuses on the preponderance of crows as a bird of mythology while making the documentary. In one scene he showed Shyamalam in a long shot walking about in the woods alone apparently saying something to himself. As he sat down, a crow flew past and he turned quickly to look at it. In another scene, where Shyamalan was talking to Kahn with the backdrop of a tree, a crow appeared and quickly flew away. Shyamalan turned yet again to look at the bird.
The most compelling crow scene was inside an abandoned home where Shyamalan grew up. A real estate agent, who took the documentary maker around the house, opened one of the doors and suddenly an angry crow came out of the room as if to attack them.
Kahn managed to track down Celina Meadow, a childhood friend of Shyamalan who is said to have been with him when he almost drowned in the icy pond. When Kahn told Meadow that Shyamalan had actually died for a short while, the latter became upset and said, "Why are you doing this to him?" Kahn interspersed these moments with a scene from Shyamalan's movie "Unbreakable" where the boy protagonist, played by Haley Joel Osment, falls into an icy lake.
Kahn added up bits and pieces, including the drawing of a boy with a somewhat disfigured face done by Shyamalan as a child and a smudged out picture of the filmmaker with a fan, to create a persona out of Shyamalan as someone deeply intriguing.