Jeffery and the Dinosaurs by Karen Alexander
'Jeffery and the Dinosaurs is a subtle film that achieves an unexpected lucidity and insight, provoking both wonder and an element of heartbreak.'
In six short minutes, Christoph Steger’s gentle film captures the obsessive, engaging and hermetic world of would-be filmmaker and dinosaur obsessive Jeffery Marzi. Born in Pennsylvania in 1966, Marzi - autodidact and ‘outsider artist’ - shares his hopes and aspirations for making it big in the movies.
What fascinates about this very American story is that Marzi was born with brain damage so severe that doctors did not expect him to achieve the mind/body coordination of a toddler. Now, at forty-two, Marzi can drive a car, dismantle an engine and operate a computer, but by his own admission he is a slow learner and so finds it almost impossible to secure gainful employment.
Against these odds, for the past fifteen years he has been working on elaborate science fiction film ideas following a vision he had after seeing Jurassic Park (1993). Marzi views his illustrations as blueprints for live action films with lots of special effects – his role models being Michael Crichton, J K Rowling and Stephen King. For Marzi, his noble focus on feature film production is as his 'passport out of poverty'. But while he views his filmic aspirations as his only answer to escape the uncertainty of living on welfare, filmmaker Steger creatively uses the medium to interrogate and explore, affirming all those that others may consider strange, or who operate on life’s margins.
With Marzi, the treads that connect his elaborately detailed artwork with his childlike exterior are merged. Steger excels at using real life characters as the starting point for his hybrid production; by breathing life into the drawn and described universe created by Marzi for his Radon the Pterodactyloid Man trilogy, he reveals a more expressive consciousness, not discernable from the static page or a live action interview.
Steger’s touching and non-judgemental portrait is fashioned as part-documentary, part-animation; it allows us to see Marzi’s more complex persona, and to appreciate the formal intricacy of his drawings - reflecting aspects of 20th century painter Jean Dubuffet’s assertions about ‘raw art’, being art that is difficult to categorise. Jeffery and the Dinosaurs is a subtle film that achieves an unexpected lucidity and insight, provoking both wonder and an element of heartbreak. For Marzi, the drawing and storytelling skills are part of ‘Plan B’; all things being equal, he’d rather get a job as a mechanic.
Karen Alexander is an independent film curator, writer and freelance consultant. She has contributed articles to publications including Sight & Sound and Vertigo. As a cinema programmer she has organised a wide range of screenings and packages for festivals, conferences and exhibition. Her key areas of interest include representation, gender, identity and independent cinema. From 1998-2006 she worked at the BFI, with responsibility for the strategic marketing of the BFI's ambitious slate of Distribution and Archive releases.