July 02--When "Pollywogs" opens, the protagonist is sprawled on the floor of his apartment listening to a message from a newly minted ex-girlfriend who has moved out and taken everything with her -- including the light-switch covers.
And, by the way, she's billing him for a certain picture frame.
The elixir for this soul suck: A family reunion and cabin time near Hibbing.
They say true life is stranger than fiction. But in the case of writer-director-actor Karl Jacob, true life became fiction in the
Hibbing native's first feature-length film. Those are his real grandparents sitting at the fire in one scene at the reunion. And that's his mom taking target practice in another scene. Those are actually his cousins.
The filmmaker returned to his roots to capture the most Minnesotan of Minnesota moments in "Pollywogs," which gets its regional premiere at 7 p.m. today at Zinema 2 as part of the Explorers Club series.
"It's a place that I have a strong connection to, having grown up there, and a place I've grown to appreciate since I left," Jacob said. "There are a lot of things culturally about the state that are really exciting in terms of not being able to encounter them anywhere else in the country."
The world premiere was in June during the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Jacob, who stars as Dylan, travels from New York City to the north woods for a family reunion, a trip that includes cliff-jumping, sauna hopping and a reunion with Sarah, the childhood sweetheart who left his life abruptly years ago when her family moved to a religious compound in Colorado.
Early in the vacation, Dylan likens the trip home -- in all its cousinly horse-play glory -- as feeling like a massage.
After the reunion ends, Dylan, Sarah and longtime married couple Bo, Dylan's bestie, and Julie, Dylan's cousin, keep the party going through the night.
Then things get a little uncomfortable.
It's not just the place that is familiar for Jacob. The story has shades of reality, blurred by dramatic license.
"If things were actually as real as they were, it would be a boring movie," Jacob said in a phone interview from Manhattan, where he lives part time when he isn't in Minneapolis. "It's a condensed movie. It takes all the funniest parts and puts them back to back. If it was the actual story, it would be at least four hours long -- 24 hours long."
Who is he?
Jacob is a 1997 graduate of Hibbing High School and got his start performing in community theater productions. After graduation, he studied music for a year in the Twin Cities at what was then called Music Tech. He quit the music biz and began working at a casting agency while also auditioning for roles.
He landed in New York City in April 2000.
None of this acting-writing-directing lifestyle is a surprise to Lindsey Peterson, who has known him since she was 14. She has a brief role in his film as his sister.
"He was very outgoing, very approachable and kind of wacky, I guess," she said. "He reminded me of Jim Carrey when I first met him: Fun, full of life, very theatrical."
Jacob recently appeared in "666 Park Avenue," and was on "Young American Bodies," which aired on IFC. He's listed as "Aldeen double" on IMDB.com in the movie "The Dictator," starring Sacha Baron Cohen, but the details of that gig are hush-hush.
"I'm not allowed to talk about it," he said.
Jacob started writing "Pollywogs" in 2011 on a road trip between Texas, where his film "Happy New Year" was playing during SXSW, and his home in New York.
He had purchased a motorcycle in Austin because it was less expensive than renting a car during the festival, then used it to get home. Along the way, he began alerting his friends to the story he was putting together.
"By the time I got to New York, I had them wanting to get involved," he said.
Jacob favors improvisation, both as an actor and director and actor-director-co-writer. "Pollywogs" follows this mold, from the footage that was shot during his actual family reunion in October 2011 -- where family members went about their reunion business but agreed to call him by his character's name -- to the sort of intimate conversations where one woman might coyly ask another whether she made love with the protagonist in the sauna last night.
"The training I got as a young actor ... was almost entirely improv based," Jacob said. "Usually when people have challenges with acting, the goal is to strip away and get back to working with instinct and on impulse. To me it's the most liberating way to get to the core of someone's honesty."
Jacob also strove for authenticity of place to the degree of making Minnesota's presence strong enough to be considered a character. He said he wanted the culture of where he grew up to come through in scenes, including one that features the family out on the family land taking target practice.
Peterson said the process was comfortable -- like hanging out with her old friend with cameras and crew around.
"That's pretty much how it felt. Not a lot of pressure: A nice, calm and fun environment," she said.
"It's really great that he got to make his first feature film and utilize his home town and the environment to make it. Using family was such a natural and great process."
IF YOU GO
What: "Pollywogs" screening, part of Zinema 2's Explorers Club series
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Zinema 2, 222 E. Superior St.
Tickets: $8 at the door or zeitgeistarts.com
(c)2013 the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.)
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