Combustible Celluloid
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With: Vanessa Halby, Peter Halby, Ila Halby, A.J. Murray, Jeremy Vest, Alec Bandler, Zack Gottsagen, Steve Kutasz, Peter Lazarus, Will Halby, Suzi Barrett, Dominique Dauwe, Karina Deyko, Judi Muskrat
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Michael Barnett
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 82
Date: 09/25/2015

Becoming Bulletproof (2015)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cowboy Up

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This lovely, big-hearted documentary does a remarkable job of showing people with disabilities as absolutely, utterly human, as well as telling a compelling story of the hard work of making a movie.

In Becoming Bulletproof, the nonprofit organization Zeno Mountain Farm prepares to make another of its annual movies featuring a cast and crew made up of both people with disabilities and able-bodied people. This year, the film will be a Western called Bulletproof. Jeremy Vest, who has Williams syndrome, has risen through the ranks and has now been cast as the hero of the picture, "Bulletproof Jackson."

Likewise, Zack Gottsagen, who has Down syndrome, has landed not only the scene-stealing role of villainous Gar Vunderson, but also a second role as "Grimm Jim." Newcomer A.J. Murray, who has debilitating Cerebral Palsy, finally has his first chance to live his dream as an actor. But the complex production has many rustic locations, and lines of dialogue to be memorized, and not much time.

Becoming Bulletproof is an excellent, matter-of-fact mix of elements. It tells the story of the non-profit, founded by the able-bodied Halby family, which grew at a surprising rate and became a full-time effort. (Will Halby was a co-writer on Bulletproof.) Then it focuses largely on three of the actors (Gottsagen, who later starred in The Peanut Butter Falcon, Vest, and Murray), proving relaxed, candid interviews with them, rather than the typical, airless studio talking head type.

The doc occasionally merges from non-fiction into scenes from the finished Western, moving into Sergio Leone-like widescreen and sepia-tone color, and it really does look like a professional, entertaining effort. (The finished film can be streamed at the Zeno Mountain Farm website.)

Bulletproof director Peter Lazarus says he's actually interested in making the best movie possible, and his patient, kind, yet firm work with the actors is admirable. The most moving thing about Becoming Bulletproof, however, is watching this band of all kinds of friends, absolutely loving being in each other's company.

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