News Column

Cinetopia offering 'Buzzard' puts Grand Rapids filmmaker on the indie map

June 1, 2014

By Julie Hinds, Detroit Free Press

June 01--Joel Potrykus is feeling "pretty stoked," and, well, he should be.

His latest film, "Buzzard," was a hit at the 2014 SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. It has been shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as part of a new directors program. Soon, it heads to Europe and other far-flung places.

"Buzzard" will have its Michigan premiere Friday and Saturday at the Cinetopia International Film Festival.

It's all a pretty big deal for the Grand Rapids filmmaker, this business of being a hot new voice in independent film.

"For the first time in my life, I have, like, a manager, an agent wanting to see what I'm up to," says Potrykus.

"They're trying to get me to move out to L.A., not surprising. But I'm going to try to stick around here in Michigan and just keep working on films the way we have in the past. Hopefully, we can use a little bit of that L.A. money here in Michigan. That would be the ideal scenario."

Shot in Grand Rapids and Detroit by a tiny crew consisting of Potrykus and his longtime friends and creative colleagues, "Buzzard" packs a dramatic punch that's often as funny as it is unsettling and sad.

The story follows Marty (Joshua Burge), a temp worker at a bank whose life consists of goofing off at his job, scamming his own company and others for petty sums of cash, playing video games and downing large quantities of chips, pop and frozen pizzas.

Marty is disconnected from a corporate world that bores him and seems to offer no real opportunities. Twenty years ago, he might have been called a slacker, but he's always busy with some scheme, whether it's trying to get free pizza coupons or to game the system of ordering office supplies.

The film is a little like a bleak update of "Office Space" until Marty's routine begins to spiral out of control. It then achieves a level of tension and emotional complexity that has been noted by reviewers.

"You kind of want (Marty) to succeed in his petty rebellion against boredom, conformity and corporate blandness, and you kind of want him to be punched in the face," writes A.O. Scott of the New York Times.

On the movie rating site Rotten Tomatoes, "Buzzard" so far has earned a 100% fresh score from critics.

Potrykus spent about a year working on the project, including about eight months of rehearsals. But time was his only luxury. The budget was so small -- he puts it in the five-figure range -- that it didn't even meet the threshold necessary to qualify for Michigan's film incentives.

He describes his crew as sort of "a film band" made up of people with musical backgrounds.

"We just hang out, and once a week, we get together and work on the movie and rehearse it and go over the script. So when it comes time to shoot, we're all on the same page and we can move quickly."

Potrykus found Burge, a singer-songwriter, by watching him perform with Chance Jones, a Grand Rapids band. This is the third film they've worked on together.

"He's like a total wild man onstage. I always thought if I could get some of that energy in front of the camera, it would be something special," says Potrykus.

In addition to directing, writing and editing the movie, Potrykus also plays Derek, a coworker of Marty's who's a lonely social misfit. Their frenemy bantering provides much of the movie's dark humor.

"We auditioned a lot of actors who were really good, but they just didn't have the same back and forth as Josh and I do naturally," says Potrykus. "We're friends. We've known each other a long time. We goof around. Half the time we were filming, I was just trying to make him laugh, have him break character."

Some scenes in "Buzzard" involved some guerrilla filmmaking, where the crew worked quietly and quickly at locations that didn't know they were being used for the movie.

"There's absolutely quite a few locations where either we knew we wouldn't get permission to film in or we thought it would be just way more exciting to go there, hop out of the car and film it," he says.

"Buzzard" feels like the latest chapter in the angry-young-man genre, but it's also a very contemporary spin on disaffected angst.

"We're trying to shed a little light on two guys who just don't understand the world around them. It's kind of this modern sadness, I think, that they have, where neither one of them have friends and never have adjusted socially to society," says Potrykus.

That's just his perspective. Audiences can react to "Buzzard" any way they want.

"You can laugh at those characters. You can laugh with them. You can be sad. You can boo them. You can cheer them. I just make my movie and put it out and respect how anybody reacts to it."


Contact Julie Hinds: 313-222-6427 or


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