by Carole Verona
“Detonator,” a film written, directed and produced by Keir Politz, of Manayunk, and Damon Maulucci, of Brooklyn, tells the story of Sully, the former front man of a punk rock band who now lives in a respectable suburban community with his wife and their five-year-old son. Sully’s ex-band mate Mick suddenly comes back into his life with a promise to repay money owed. After Mick places them both in danger, Sully chases Mick through the streets of Philadelphia in what can be described as one hellish night.
After a screening at the Brooklyn Film Festival on June 1 and 2 of this year, a review in the Village Voice said that “Detonator” was one of the strongest pictures shown. Locally, Geekadelphia nominated the film for the “Feature Length Indie Film of the Year Award.” The winner was announced at a sold-out event last Saturday at the Academy of Natural Sciences. “We didn’t come home with the trophy,” Keir told us Monday morning, but as they say, ‘it was an honor just to be nominated.’”
“Detonator” was also selected to be an entrant in the Bay City Film Festival, which will take place in Bay City, Michigan, from Sept. 26 to 29.
Politz, 38, said the film deals with the universal theme of “what it’s like to go through a transitional phase of life, when a person is experiencing and coping with the loss of a version of a former self.” The title of the film is also the name of the punk band Sully and Mick played in when they were younger. That period of Sully’s life was a time of excitement, exhilaration and volatility.
“What I see of myself in the character of Sully is what I think many people see in themselves: learning how to be a parent, finding a creative outlet and channeling the things that excite and thrill you into the life of being a father or mother. I relate to that, but I’m very happy, and that’s the difference. When we meet Sully, he is lost, drifting and lamenting the loss of former times, whereas I never really did that. Yeah, sure, sometimes you have regrets, but I’ve always been happy and fulfilled in the moment.”
Politz was intrigued by Philadelphia’s punk music scene. “When I taught at the University of the Arts, I had a student there from North Jersey named Tiny Ryan Hendriksen. I was kind of watching him grow up before my eyes. He discovered the punk scene and literally put on about 100 house shows in West Philly with nationally known bands. His band, Dead People Screaming, performs in our film.”
Politz played the guitar when he was younger and today enjoys any kind of music with integrity. “I’ll listen to anything that’s not corporate garbage,” he said. “I’ll avoid anything that’s being force-fed over TV.”
“Detonator” was shot at various Philly locations, including Kensington, Kingsessing, Roxborough and Manayunk. One was a place called Danger Danger Gallery at 5013 Baltimore Ave. Politz describes it as an art gallery and performance space within a house. “I have this thing about movies shot in Philadelphia,” he added. “They seem inauthentic. You’ll see the same stock shots of Boathouse Row, the Liberty Bell and the Art Museum steps. People can’t find out what this city is all about!”
Much of Politz’s inspiration came from a 1976 film shot in Philly called “Mikey and Nicky,” directed by Elaine May and starring Peter Falk and John Cassavetes. “There are no actual recognizable landmarks in the whole film. I don’t know if they ever say it’s in Philadelphia, but it can’t be any other place. It’s so vivid, so specifically Philadelphia. What I tried to capture in ‘Detonator’ was the experience of these two guys being shoved into this scary situation and having to work it out over one night on the streets of Philadelphia.”
Politz and Maulucci met in 2003 while they were students at Columbia. “We spent a lot of time talking about our own stories and the projects we were working on. As the concept for ‘Detonator’ developed, we would spend hours on Skype talking things out. And every once in a while we’d get together in New York or Philly and have a chunk of time together working it out.”
When asked if he received support from the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, he said it was good for obtaining parking permits, getting access if you wanted a police escort and dealing with the required paperwork. “But they’re not going out of their way to help you realize your vision. They are basically part of the business of the city in that they want to bring production into Philadelphia for a week or two because it’s bringing in money. I don’t think they’re motivated to cultivate a local indie film scene here.”
On the local scene, Politz admires Eric Bresler, director and curator of PhilaMOCA, a gallery space that also contains a stage and screen. Located in a former showroom for mausoleums and tombstones, PhilaMOCA includes work by a variety of artists ranging from puppeteers and comedians to dancers and cinematographers. “He (Bresler) is offering more interesting indie films and celebrating that work.”
Politz grew up in the city’s Lawncrest section. He attended St. Joseph’s Prep School and Holy Cross College in Massachusetts, where he majored in English and did a year abroad studying Italian literature in Florence. Politz always wanted to be a writer, but when he was in Italy, he also became interested in cinema. He received an M.F.A. from Columbia University, where he won the John and Jane Smith Fellowship for excellence in screenwriting and one of five film department fellowships. He has taught at Temple and Drexel Universities and the University of the Arts and currently teaches screenwriting at the University of Pennsylvania.
Politz and his wife Anne live in Manayunk with their three-year-old son Lorenzo and daughter Stella, 11 months old. “I love living, working and teaching in Philly. I’d like to keep making films here as long as I can. I’m actually now adapting a novel written by a friend I went to St. Joe’s Prep with. That’s the plan.”