Zachary Levy met Stan Pleskun when he was filming a network television show.
Stan, whose stage name is Stanless Steel, was performing one of his strongman acts -- a variety of bending pennies, lifting cars, and crushing steel rods with his bare hands.
Stan's a professional strongman in a post-carnival age where men and women with incredible strengths make the television show circuit, participate in hotel lobby competitions, and constantly run against their own tight-knit and highly competitive community.
Levy says the connection between Stan and himself was instant. "While I was filming Stan for that show, there was a sense of trust and mutual respect," he says. "I knew he had a great story and I had been thinking about doing a documentary ... so I approached him after the show and we exchanged numbers."
That was in 1999. For the next three years (over 130 official shooting days, he says), Levy packed up his car, drove from his place in New York to Stan's in New Jersey, and pressed record.
The result -- post years of editing and production -- is Strongman, a full-length documentary on life as a strongman, and a regular man with, as Levy puts it, a "fundamentally American tale of passion and determination."
Levy laughs when he says he shouldn't have started his documentary -- he didn't have the cash, had to borrow most of his equipment, and drove for hours on a weekly basis. "Don't let them fool you," he says. "There's nothing easy about filmmaking."
His goal was to tell Stan's story, to strip back what he calls the glossy version of Stan and his girlfriend Barbara, as they lived and traveled together to Stan's various shows and gigs. He chose to film the documentary in cinema verite -- no interviews, no narration, no music -- a style popular in the 60s and 70s.
Levy says the style was a challenge, but was the best fit for Stan's character and lifestyle.
"Stan's so pure in his own work and puts so much heart into everything he does," says Levy. "And in those moments of silence, you can see there's an innocence, but also a great understanding of who Stan is and what he wants to become."
In 2003, Levy found himself in a ton of debt with no way to pay for the
editing production process, so he created a deck of cards.
The 52 cards featured members of the Bush administration, and gained instant popularity in hipster shops and novelty stores nationwide. Yes, a weird way to pay for a movie, Levy adds, but it worked.
More than a decade after he met Stan and started shooting, Levy's releasing his documentary in hopes of telling Stan's story and getting the word out about a world he had never seen before.
"Stan and I are now at a point where we're past 'filmmaker and subject' -- he's a friend who ethically, I care about and emotionally, I trust," Levy says. "But I know it's the same for Stan -- he saw where I had the camera pointed, he watched my decisions as the film was being made, and so he had to trust me as well ... there's just a huge amount of trust between us."
Strongman will screen at Harkins Valley Art March 18 through 24. For showtime information, check out the Valley Art website and for more info on the film, visit the official Strongman website.