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Sundance 2010: 'Teenage Paparazzo' turns the lens of fame back on itself

January 22, 2010 | 10:02 am


Adrian Grenier gets it. He's famous for playing a famous guy, a fictional movie star named Vincent Chase on the series "Entourage." In the documentary "Teenage Paparazzo," directed by Grenier and having its premiere today at the Sundance Film Festival, Grenier begins by following a 12-year-old paparazzi photographer named Austin Visschedyk.

The film unexpectedly becomes a clear-eyed investigation of the fame apparatus as Visschedyk becomes a mini-celebrity in his own right, in part because of his association with Grenier. As a filmmaker, Grenier talks to various intellectuals -- an anthropologist, a media theorist and a film historian -- as well as such celebrities as Matt Damon, Rosie O'Donnell, Eva Longoria, Lindsay Lohan and comedian Lewis Black, and visits the offices of a glossy supermarket tabloid magazine.

He even goes on a staged date with Paris Hilton to see how it gets reported in the press, joins a scrum outside a restaurant hustling for a picture of Brooke Shields and eventually turns the tables on his relationship with Visschedyk, accepting responsibility for whatever part he may have played in the boy's development.

While always told with a tone of sly playfulness, the film at times takes on some heady concepts, not exactly the stuff of Vinnie Chase and the Hollywood fast lane. Grenier understands the distinction between who he is and who he plays on TV and uses the slippage between the two to wedge himself into the cracks of the machinery of fame and the media.

"I feel honored and privileged to have been in the position to exploit the situation in this way," Grenier explained recently in Los Angeles. Having just flown in from Detroit, where he is working on another documentary, he himself was hit up by paparazzi at the airport earlier that day.

"A lot of people out there are famous," he said, "but they don't want to rock the boat. It was just too good to pass up in my mind. The whole meta aspect of it was just so tasty for the kind of person that I am. Of course it's dangerous when you're making a movie that you're in, it can become a narcissistic, pretentious endeavor, but I don't think it could have been any other way."

Grenier first encountered Visschedyk a few years back when he was leaving a restaurant and a wispy young boy asked to take his picture. Grenier expected the kid to pose beside him, but instead the boy fired off a quick round of photos with a professional-grade camera and scampered off. Grenier called after him, and a relationship was born. Eventually Grenier would shoot some 300-odd hours of footage for the film over 2-1/2 years.

"My main goal for the movie isn't even for people to be entertained, but for people to talk about it," Grenier said. "The film isn't even about a paparazzo and a celebrity, the woes of celebrities. At the end of the day there are very few celebrities affected by paparazzi. Really what it's about is parenting, what our values are and how we share them, how the media we create is parenting us as a society. I'm an optimist, so I don't see anything that wrong with paparazzi. It can be dangerous, but so can a lot of things. You can also have fun with it.

"It was very important to me that it be this hybrid documentary between a story of a kid and a celebrity and their relationship but also relating to it intellectually, and finding the language to talk about it. It's stuff we all know, it's instinctive, but when you start putting words to it you're able to connect to things in a different way."

Grenier previously directed "Shot in the Dark," a documentary about his search for his own father. Grenier jokes that he is "the ultimate narcissist" for making two films that are in such a large part about himself -- although his next film is an examination of the drug war -- while adding that he knows he is perhaps pushing the boundaries of his own position within the panorama of celebrity.

"I'm very different from Vince," said Grenier. "He's just an actor. Right now, I'm just Vince, but I hope I'll throw people for a loop. It's the media again, the perception game. You can always find creative ways to reinvent. I'll always be me."

-- Mark Olsen

Photo: Adrian Grenier in "Teenage Paparazzo," courtesy Sundance Film Festival.

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