Little Feet Dir. Alexandre Rockwell

[Factory 25; 2014]

Styles: kids
Others: In the Soup, Zero de Conduit, Little Fugitive

They say the older you get, the shorter each year becomes. What used to take up a significant chunk of your entire life (a seventh, an eighth) only takes up a sliver (a thirtieth, less) by the time you reach adulthood, and in this way time starts to literally move faster. Do you ever remember thinking, “Man, how fast the years pass” when you were a kid? When you haven’t been around too long, even small journeys seem to have epic proportions, and it’s this sense of disproportion that director Alexandre Rockwell has found a way to capture in his film Little Feet.

Rockwell is an aging holdover from the last great era of American independent movies, and his latest film is all the better for it. His name is often on a short-list of filmmakers who rose to fame by finding ways to circumvent major studios in the late 80s and early 90s — folks who managed to get personal movies made against the odds. He was once considered to be one of best talents among the Tarantino-Linklater-Rodriguez directors pack, but he’s failed to find the mainstream success that each of those directors has managed to achieve. If you browse through his oeuvre, you notice a track record of multi-year gaps in work interspersed with a few all-but-unseen Steve Buscemi and/or Peter Dinklage movies.

The impression all this gives off is of a promising career long-since fizzled into irrelevance, but that’s hardly the case. Rockwell continues to work, if on budgets now so small he’s turned to Kickstarter to get funding for post-production. The result proves that he’s still capable of producing a unique film in the unmistakable lo-fi style of the early 90s American auteur camp from which he hails.

Little Feet is maybe best described as a scuzzy fairy tale. It’s set in the poorer, more rundown streets of Los Angeles, and stars (almost to the exclusion of anyone else) three children: Rockwell’s own kids Lana and Rico, as a sister and brother who have to mostly fend for themselves, and Rene Caunto-Bautista as their goofy neighbor, Nene. Lana and Rico have an isolated, happy-enough homelife; she cares for him and their goldfish in their tiny house while their alcoholic father (Rockwell) is out making rent. When Nene moves in next door, the trio develop a mission: to return the goldfish, which they believe is dying, to the ocean, where they think it will thrive. This kind of logic courses through their entire LA adventure: they have all the collective understanding of the adult world that three small children could be expected to possess. Which is to say, they don’t belong on the streets of LA all by themselves.

Yet Rockwell sends them off anyway, though it’s not a story of the perils of the real world he’s aiming for. Rather, he’s interested in a movie that can capture a child’s view of a big city. Using black and white 16 millimeter film and cobbled together props and costumes, Rockwell’s take on the kids’ movie is an epic adventure in miniature. He’s as playful with his camera and editing as the kids are with the world and each other. He’s also less concerned with life lessons and the dangers of the modern world than he is with the rhythms and perspectives that come from seeing that world through a child’s eyes. Every concrete staircase, bridge overpass and homeless lady behind a shopping cart is, for the trio (and by extension Rockwell), an exotic stop to be converted into a part of their citywide game.

Even if it isn’t a masterpiece, the film can’t be faulted for much; it has too few pretensions and too much earnest energy. The only major flaw comes, in a way, from LA itself. It can’t be ignored, even through all the creativity and child-like wonder, that Little Feet was extremely cheaply made. The streets of LA seem to have been chosen as shooting locations not because they provided natural color and odd modern formations, but because Rockwell couldn’t afford to go anywhere but his own backyard. What he would do with a large budget would probably be a thing to see, but with this small one, it’s hard to hide the lack of resources behind a playful camera or enthused young actors. Just as you can’t quite ignore the chintz around the edges of Reservoir Dogs, Little Feet suffers because its shaggy earnestness distracts from a world that should seem care free.

The two greatest achievements in many people’s lives are likely their children and their work. In Little Feet, perhaps with no other choice, Rockwell’s found a way to combine them both, and to frequently beautiful effect. Here’s hoping some of the moneymen take notice and give him a little more to work with next time.

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