Lee Fanning is not Steven Spielberg or George Lucas.
However, his indie film, “A Genesis Found,” may just remind Athens of another indie hero: Indiana Jones.
“The best compliment I ever got was that the film is a do-it-yourself ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’” said the filmmaker via e-mail. “So maybe that gives some folks a frame of reference.”
An independent feature film, “A Genesis Found” deals with the purported discovery of an anomalous skeleton at the Moundville archaeological site.
“The idea first came while [I was] a senior at the University of Alabama,” Fanning said. “I initially wanted to do a period treasure-hunt story. … When we decided to do a feature we obviously couldn’t afford to make the entire film period, so we decided to use some period flashbacks.”
The setting of Moundville, an important archaeological site in central Alabama, was decided upon early.
But “A Genesis Found” is not simply a historical-themed feature. What distinguishes it is its cross-genre motif — that other genre being science fiction.
“I integrated the ‘ancient astronaut’ subplot because of my dad,” Fanning said. “I thought it would be a good tool to use to explore what we wanted to explore.”
What Fanning and partner Ben Stark do explore is the fictional journey of Civilian Conservation Corps cadet John Patton Jr., who discovered and subsequently hid a skeleton in 1938 that was anomalous — neither man nor animal.
Patton’s grandson, Gardner, becomes fascinated with his grandfather’s discovery 70 years later and is joined by a documentarian, Bart Thompson, and his girlfriend, Kelsey.
Together they attempt to understand the nature of the skeleton and perhaps something other-worldly.
“I think what’s so vital about [“A Genesis Found”] being told as a film is that, ultimately, the major theme explored is story,” Fanning said. “How stories and myth can both educate and manipulate, be both beneficial and detract and inform and mislead.”
Even if a serious discussion of “big questions” is not a priority of audiences, Fanning assures “A Genesis Found” offers something for the general public.
“I think first and foremost, ‘A Genesis Found’ is an adventure drama with a sci-fi edge. The approach is fairly traditional, though I do think there are elements where we’re definitely trying new things,” Fanning said. “Don’t expect something bizarre or shocking or irritating.”
What is shocking to Fanning is the warm reception the film has garnered from audiences and the media.
“Overall, I think the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve gotten a lot of press interest solely on the distribution infrastructure,” Fanning said. “We’re certainly not the first to do it, but it’s still not a common type of approach for distributing films, indie or not.”
That “infrastructure” involves point-of-purchase sales of “A Genesis Found” on DVD at screenings, as well as mail-order copies and the ability to stream the film via the Internet.
Innovative distribution models aside, “A Genesis Found” owes its success thus far to its content, heart and passion more than its packaging.
“It’s a challenging film, but I think [it’s] generally pretty appealing, and it’s also a special treat for Southern audiences,” Fanning said. “That’s something Wonder Mill, my and Ben’s company, is pretty committed to: to telling Southern stories for Southern audiences, highlighting parts of the Southern experience and Southern mythology that aren’t translated outside of the region.”
For early comers, 50 copies of the DVD will be given out free of charge. Additional copies will be available for purchase.
“A GENESIS FOUND”
When: Tonight at 6
Where: Baldwin Hall
More Information: First 50 in attendance receive a complimentary DVD of “A Genesis Found.” Additional copies will be availabe for purchase.