Edinburgh International Film Festival Diary: 16 August

Alistair Harkness speaks to writer/director Owen Kline about his latest film, Funny Pages, which revolves around the strange world of underground comics.

I first discovered the twisted world of underground comics through movies. Ghost World introduced me to the work of Daniel Clowes and — via director Terry Zwigoff’s earlier documentary work — R. Crumb. American Splendour, meanwhile, opened me up to Harvey Pekar. As it happens, I saw both films at EIFF in the early aughts, so it was fun re-immersing myself in this grubby art form this year via the late addition of Funny Pages to the Festival’s programme.

Written and directed by Owen Kline, and produced by Josh and Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems), it’s a darkly funny, twisted tale of a privileged, somewhat obnoxious high school student (Daniel Zolghadri) so determined to break into the world of underground comics that he embarks on a deranged, increasingly weird, increasingly dangerous attempt to suffer for his art.

“I was always pretty loyal to the comic book side of things,” Kline tells me over Zoom. “Even the Ghost World movie, which I liked, there was stuff in the comic that was so dark it didn’t make the cut. I wanted to channel those voices a little more.”

Funny Pages

Kline’s had his own brushes with this lifestyle. He may be the son of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, but aside from the summer he spent making The Squid and the Whale — which made him realise movies could be art — he had no interest in the film business and spent most of his teen years playing in novelty bands and trying to be a cartoonist.

“The movies my dad was making when things were hot, the studio movies in the 90s, they seemed like they were being made by machines,” he says. “There wasn’t any kind of voice behind them. And I was interested in cartooning and comics. I wanted to know how I could get me some of that.”

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He got some of that when he went to art school in New York. Rather than blowing thousands on the dorms, he found a “frightening sh*thole” for $300 a month. “The day I moved out was the day it was bulldozed,” he laughs.

By then, though, he’d already met indie upstarts the Safdie brothers, crewing on some of their films, acting in one of their shorts and even animating the trailer to their first feature when he was still a senior in high school. Naturally, then, after struggling for several years to get Funny Pages made, they came on board and made it happen. “They were the first people to take me seriously.”

Funny Pages screens on 19 August. For more information and tickets, see www.edfilmfest.org