DVD The Peddler
The documentary medium has rarely been more popular. Digital technologies, in particular, have allowed a broad range of filmmakers to produce high calibre films which are increasingly likely to gain theatrical releases. So it seems fitting that The Peddler is a documentary concerning itself with a prolific amateur auteur.
Daniel Burmeister lives to make films. Travelling from one Argentinean town to another in his battered old car, his mission is to hammer out a feature film in just thirty days – and then to start another one. Enlisting the locals, he modifies one of his pre-written scripts in each town and proceeds to charm the town’s population into becoming his cast and crew.
He’s in a state of perpetual motion to the extent that it took three filmmaker’s efforts just to keep up with him. Between them, directors de la Serna, Marcheggiano and Yurcovich record his every move, musing and mishap on his way to creating his latest masterpiece…
The film opens with a stunningly beautiful shot of Daniel’s car driving towards the camera. The sunset in the background and the gently strummed guitar suggest a peacefulness at odds with the busy production period to come. It’s the calm before the storm – something Daniel himself seems to confirm as he outlines his worries that the first town he visits will not sanction his movie.
He makes his case eloquently and persuasively, explaining his simple business model: in exchange for food and lodgings, he will produce a film in thirty days. He will then take a share of the profits from screening the movie as payment. And it’s difficult to argue with such a simple plan – especially when the man proposing it looks like a smiley Argentinean Santa Claus.
Of course, the town accepts his offer and Daniel sets to work. His whirlwind charm offensive is a perfect example of what makes him such a watchable character. He skips with schoolchildren, flirts with shopkeepers and butters up factory workers. It’s no surprise at all when Daniel flatters a wig-wearing taxi-driver to join his cast. He’s an extremely persuasive character – and instantly loveable. He is the heart of the film and an absolute joy to watch at work.
If there was a criticism which could be levelled at The Peddler, it’s perhaps that some of the opening scenes are a little pedestrian. As an introduction to Daniel, they work well, but the real delight of watching him on screen is seeing him behind his own camera. This is beautifully illustrated by a scene in which he asks the townsfolk to audition. One by one, they take turns in front of his camera, varying their facial expressions as he asks them to imagine different characters (the girl you love, a boy you hate, a cow) walk by. It’s simple, understated and wonderful.
Things really take off once the movie-making process begins in earnest. Early on, Daniel says, “There’s always a solution,” and he really means it. He’s a filmmaking tour de force, acting as sound engineer, props man, rigger, cameraman, director and every other role you can think of. His ingenuity and creativity is limitless, finding creative ways to construct complicated shots, troubleshooting problems as they arise and transmitting his enormous energy to all around him. The best example of this is a wonderful scene in which Daniel creates a tracking shot by being dragged along the floor on a blanket.
Watching Daniel making his movie is where the real joy lies.
Watching Daniel making his movie is where the real joy lies. Although the production is utterly amateurish, it’s amazing just how much joy everyone involved gleans from the project. There is genuine laughter at every turn and a real sense of community. The ease with which the local fire brigade are persuaded to join in the fun is remarkable – Daniel has everyone eating out of the palm of his hand.
The legacy of the film is just as heart-warming. The townsfolk have seen their humdrum lives made exciting by the transformative power of cinema, with one young boy in particular turned from a shy introvert into a talkative chatterbox. It’s to the credit of the three directors that they manage to capture these characters who could well have been overshadowed by focusing too hard on Daniel.
Little of what’s filmed is actually shown, and what is will certainly never win an Oscar. But to expect a wonderful end product is to miss the point entirely. Both Daniel Burmeister and the directors of The Peddler are far more concerned with the process, the craft and the galvanising effect of making a movie. And in that sense, both Daniel’s film and The Peddler are a complete success.
The Peddler is a film invested with love and passion. Everyone concerned displays a warmth and humanity which overrides their occasional lack of skill. One can only hope that as Daniel drives back into the sunset from whence he came, the spirit he conjured will remain in the town of Gould.
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