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SXSW Review: ‘Spaz’

March 14, 2022Ben MK

The art of moviemaking has come a long way since 1903's The Great Train Robbery. What was once the realm of silent, black-and-white images gave way to so-called talkies, which were eventually replaced by movies shot in glorious technicolor. And nowadays, you'd be hard-pressed to name a film that wasn't in some way produced through the aid of computer-generated visual effects. Indeed, CGI has become such a ubiquitous part of Hollywood that it's hard to imagine a time when movies didn't rely on the talents of the many VFX artists who have made the filmgoing experience what it is today. And while Steve "Spaz" Williams is one such person, his journey hasn't exactly led him to where he thought he'd end up.

A child of divorced parents, Williams was born in Toronto, Canada in 1962, and turned his love of cartoons into a career when he was recruited by Industrial Light & Magic in 1988 to lead the groundbreaking visual effects for James Cameron's The Abyss. From there, Williams would go on to play a key behind-the-scenes role on such films as Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park. However, despite being an irreplaceable member of the ILM team, the level of acknowledgement — or lack thereof — that he and his colleagues would continually receive would have him growing increasingly resentful of the powers that be. Eventually, Williams' bitter attitude towards his bosses would result in him being pushed him out of the industry entirely. And when his new career as a director of commercials fizzled out and Williams turned to alcoholism to drown his sorrows, it would eventually lead to the dissolution of his closest and most personal relationships, not to mention the crumbling of his marriage, as well.

Thankfully, that low point isn't where Spaz leaves off. For although most of this documentary appears to have been shot in 2018, director Scott Leberecht concludes this intimate and oftentimes heartbreaking character portrait with a sense of hope and renewal. Suffice to say, viewers going into this movie expecting a profile of a VFX pioneer may be surprised by how candid and emotionally raw the result actually is. What makes it all the more ironic is that it's all based on a man whose job was to help people buy into the fantasy of his synthetic creations.

Spaz screens under the Documentary Feature Competition Presented by IMAX section at the 2022 South by Southwest Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 26 min.

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