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By Jeremy Knox | February 16, 2009

Wamego Ultimatum is the latest installment in a trio of documentaries about Steve Balderson’s films. The first two covered the production and distribution of “Firecracker”, while this one is about his newest release “Watch Out”

I really like this documentary a lot. It’s my favorite of the bunch in fact, which is weird because “Watch Out” is my least favorite Balderson film. I gave it a fairly positive review, but it never moved me or involved me as much as it might. It was like watching a scientist talking about dark matter in the far reaches of space. I sat there thinking “Wow, he’s really onto something.” But never felt like I was participating. I could admire the work, the craftsmanship, and find much to recommend, but I couldn’t quite like it. There was an insurmountable distance between me and what was on the screen.

Yet, it’s hard to find fault in Balderson’s work ethic whatever my feelings about the film might have been. He makes Stanley Kubrick seem hands off. Also, like I’ve said before, he’s got a really really good eye. I dare anyone to go through any of his movies, pull stills from any scene, and not come up with at least one picture per scene that isn’t frame worthy. He’s that good.

Ultimatum only reinforces my notion that one day we’ll see something about Balderson called “A portrait of the artist as a director.” Because Steve runs his movie set the same way painters run their studios, with a kind of relaxed intense focus. He always knows exactly what he’s doing and where he’s going. What’s more is that Steve’s such a genuinely nice guy. He doesn’t have that egotistical, self-important, self-aggrandizing, douchebag, misanthrope, sociopath, Imperial attitude that a lot of directors have, and if you’ve dealt with a lot of “Ahr-teeests” you’ll understand how rare this is.

Of course, maybe it’s because he comes from Wamego, Kansas and it’s just hard to take yourself too seriously when you live in both the Oz capital of the world (Where every October is OZtoberfest) and home to one of the largest LSD lab ever discovered by the DEA.

I can tell that Wamego is in America, and especially in Kansas, because my hometown in Canada is roughly around the same size and we’re not anything like that place. Americans have always had an eccentric temperament that confounds most foreigners, and in turn the state of Kansas has a temperament that confounds most Americans.

So it isn’t surprising to me that a filmmaker like Steve Balderson has come out of Kansas, it’s only surprising that it took this long. Somewhere in Topeka there’s a guy cleaning toilets that should have been kicking Francis Ford Coppola’s a*s for the job of directing the Godfather or something. (I wonder if he ever dreams about getting the Oscar that fate stole from him? I bet he does. – Knox)

Anyway, enough about Kansas, mind altering drugs, The Wizard of Oz and drug induced hallucinations of flying monkeys and munchkin orgies; let’s get on with the review.

My opinion is that the best documentaries are the ones that immerse and engross you in their subject matter; and a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of “Watch Out” is bound to be fascinating since the people involved are a definitely cool cast of characters, with personality to spare.

Clark Balderson is the dad everyone wishes they had: smart, supportive, nice, cool as hell, and his reaction to one of the set drivers never having driven a truck before is priceless.

Amy Kelly, who played maneater Gina in “Watch Out”, is really sweet and talented; and for the first time I realized that she’s also really pretty. She’s always played such ghastly or homely people in Balderson’s films that I’d never noticed. That’s what I call dedication to the role kids. Bravo.

Dr. Joseph Suglia, the man who co-wrote the screenplay and wrote the novel that “Watch Out” is based on reveals himself to be a funny, educated man. Not too pretentious even though he’s a University professor which always raises flags with me. Men like him are either really cool to listen to or self-absorbed pompous a******s. Luckily, he’s the former.

Matt Riddlehoover, who played the antagonistic protagonist Jonathan Barrows in “Watch Out”, was perfect for the role. He’s got a smart, reserved, but bold, air about him. He’s also very good looking, which means you believe that both men and women would be attracted to him. Hell, he makes me wet.

Lastly, is Steve himself, an extremely smart guy with boundless energy who is both a true uncompromising artist and very good at making movies.

No great revelations are made, it isn’t Earth shattering. This isn’t “Hoop Dreams”, but it’s a good time. It’s fast paced, funny, insightful about filmmaking and filmmakers, and shows you that it doesn’t take ten billion dollars and a cast of thousands to make something memorable.

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