When I was eight, my friends and I decided to make a movie. We grabbed my dad’s camcorder, threw on a couple of costumes and filmed our antics in the backyard for about five minutes. The finished result – a masterpiece to fill even the most revered director with envy – was titled “Jurassic Park.” Apparently they hadn’t taught us the term “copyright infringement” in school yet.

I don’t know what happened to that video. It’s probably rotting away in a box in my parents’ attic or – even more likely – it was taped over and eventually found its way into the garbage. Back then, home videos were things to be tucked away guiltily and soon forgotten, but thanks to the Internet, they can make you a minor celebrity.

The newfound art of “sweding,” one that has become suddenly common in many web circles in the past couple of months, is not much different from what my friends and I did when we set out to make our backyard cinematic masterpiece so many years ago. In fact, it’s not new at all, merely an old fad given a hip new name for our oh-so-savvy generation. Coined by filmmaker Michel Gondry in his recently-released comedy “Be Kind Rewind,” the term refers to the desperate measures taken by the film’s two protagonists (played by Jack Black and Mos Def) to ensure the patrons of their video rental store get the movies they want after their entire catalog is accidentally destroyed. They do this by “sweding” films, remaking them on their video camera with a modicum of the original budget. “Ghost Busters,” “RoboCop” and “Driving Miss Daisy” all get the treatment, eliciting demand from their customers for more homemade goodness.

In turn, “Be Kind Rewind” seems to have inspired a new craze for home movie-making. Hundreds of videos pop up daily on the web showcasing average Joes fulfilling their dreams of becoming filmmakers. I find many of these videos – sometimes quite sincere, but more often than not in on the joke – both hilarious and oddly poignant. Not only are these thrift store home movie epics a lot of fun to watch if you’re a fan of the movies they’re spoofing, but they also showcase filmmaking at its most energetic and unadulterated. They’re odes to the joy, ingenuity and sheer passion that come from making a movie, no matter how cheap or, let’s face it, how awful it is.

In this day and age of soulless Hollywood schlock, when films like “Meet the Spartans” and “10,000 BC” make up fifty percent of the cinematic offerings at your local theater each weekend, it’s always nice to stumble upon a film or two made with genuine heart. Granted, it says something about the quality of contemporary cinema when we must turn to the Internet and watch camcorder-shot rip offs to find them, but regardless, I can’t help but admire the affection and dedication of these home moviemakers. The website Filmmaking Frenzy serves as the perfect introduction to this new movement in ultra-indie filmmaking, where some of your favorite films are remade by no-names for about as much money as a Hollywood actress’ hairbrush.

Take their version of “Predator” – the 1987 sci-fi action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger – for example. Yes, that girl really is talking like “Ahnold.” Yes, the murderous alien really is sporting sweat pants and Keds. And yes, that “jungle” probably is someone’s backyard. Regardless of its technical deficiencies, I’d still watch this over “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem.”

It’s astonishing how much time and effort was put into making something so, well, depressingly entertaining. The website’s version of “Tron” is a perfect example of thrifty ingenuity on the part of a bunch of dudes who seriously had too much time on their hands. Costumes made from bicycle helmets and Day-Glo masking tape? Sets built from cardboard boxes and filmed in what looks like a high school AV room? Watching this movie, the typical questions arise: How long did it take them to make this? Did they know the entire world was going to be watching it? Do these guys have jobs?

The array of wildly inconsistent but almost always entertaining fan movies on the net serves as a refreshing contrast to the stale and often passionless movies flooding theaters. But you can’t get too sentimental. It’d be nice to think these ten-cent Spielbergs could be the ones to pull Hollywood out of its depressing slump, to wonder how much better films would be today if these filmmakers existed ten years ago – and then you realize that, yes, they did exist and, sadly, they’re the ones currently stuck making “Meet the Spartans 2.”

brconrad@umich.edu.

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