Bryan Friedman's estranged dad, Bill, is a middle-aged bodybuilder who gave up a mansion and partnership in a law firm in order to pose in a bikini. The filmmaker, whose film was a hit at the last Hot Docs, talks about his pumped-up - and very personal - doc.
What did your dad think of the film?
He definitely thought I went hard on him. What struck him most was that he didn't know how much he had affected my life. But he's not defensive about it, even in the conversation with me in the film. He's honest about things, and he doesn't try to explain them away.
Has the experience helped your relationship?
It's been incredible. After he saw the film, he said, "You know, Bryan, I think the end of the film becomes the platform for the beginning of our relationship." And that's the way it's worked out. I admire him for things I never admired him for before. He's incredibly courageous to put himself out there for a lot of criticism, from a filmmaker he knew would not hold any punches - all because he loves his kid. I can't think of a more fatherly gesture. To me there's selflessness in that. And I had always thought of him as selfish.
Is your dad still competing?
He's contemplating going to some Super Grand Master competition, because he's too old for his division - he's going to be 61 in a month.
Did you ever ask him why he does it?
I must have asked him that question 4 million times. The answers he gave me had to do with health and wanting to look better. Well, it can't be about health because he smokes a pack and a half a day! He's a complicated guy, and I think his reasons for doing things are complicated. I don't think I ever figured it out. But I don't think it matters any more.
You said some pretty harsh things about your dad, especially at the beginning. Was that tough to watch?
They were easy to say because that was how I was feeling at the time and I didn't care. It became harder to listen to after. That's where you struggle as a director who's also a subject. As a subject, you want to get rid of that stuff. If you're going to be truthful to the film, you have to keep it in.
Additional Interview Audio Clips
On how and when he got the idea for the film:
On a crucial scene where he learns his father went ice-fishing shortly after he (Bryan) was born:
On why so many of the middle-aged bodybuilders in the film are Jewish:
THE BODYBUILDER AND I (Bryan Friedman) Rating: NNNN
Filmmaker Bryan Friedman's got a massive chip on his shoulder about his dad, who left home when Bryan was an infant and now, in his late 50s, has left a big law firm to become an amateur bodybuilder. In a journey that would make Freud smile, the younger Friedman follows his bulked-up dad around and, before a big competition, travels across North America to interview his dad's competition.
The unearthed fucked-up family history isn't as shocking as that other doc about a Friedman brood. But it's still disturbing, and the younger Friedman's raw honesty and openness (he confesses he's got his own commitment problems) feel as genuine as the father's later moving disclosures.
One question remains unanswered: why are so many of the mid-life-crisis bodybuilders Jewish?