Lotfy Nathan: Filmmaker as Action Hero?

While filmmaker Lotfy Nathan  has never come close to calling himself an “action hero”, at times his stories do force the image to come to mind. Over the course of several years,  Lotfy earned the trust of many members of the 12 O’Clock Boyz and was granted permission to film them on all kinds of exploits.   Lotfy’s role of “auteur”, in many ways came after the original thrust of the project.  With his subjects so routinely breaking the law in search of thrills, Lotfy’s efforts of keeping up with them, often riding along with the “boyz” themselves, seemed more indicative of an action hero than a traditional filmmaker.  In a certain kind of documentary film, it is necessary for the filmmaker to become an active participant in what he is filming.  The very act of collecting footage becomes part of the adventure and the stakes of the film.  There is a similar quality in documentary films by war correspondents, who’s bravery is integral to the experience of watching the film.  But of course the two are very different, in that Lotfy’s subjects are continuously breaking the law, his film belongs to a culture of documentaries that depict those on the fringes of society.

       When Lotfi enrolled MICA in the early oughts, he mostly likely did not expect to one day be conceptualized as an “Xtreme Filmmaker” (as I am coming to think of him).  He had entered the institution with the intention of becoming a painter. Lotfy admits he left painting for film perhaps because of a distaste for the former’s solitary nature [1].  But instead of slowly transitioning to more gregarious artforms by making a few films with his friends, he instead jumped right into his diametrically opposed project “Twelve O’Clock in Baltimore.” Lotfy got his start on the feature when he enrolled in a documentary class, in which the assigment was simply to work on any documentary project.  Lotfy fortuitously and perhaps naiively chose  as his subject the “12 O’clock Boys,” a name given to a group of  mysterious and elusive inner-city residents who had taken to illegal dirt-biking.  To Lotfy’s surprise, he found that many members of the group were very open to being filmed. In a recent Q&A in Baltimore,  Lotfy gave a small glimpse in his relationship in his almost inconceivable degree into his subject’s lives when he recounted an anecdote of riding in the back of SUV’s with the 12 O’Clock Boyz drinking energy drinks and plotting their next location for dirt-bike riding [2]. “They said ‘Get in Lot, get in the back.’  Because that’s what they called me. Lot.”  Although seemingly insignificant, it is telling that his subjects felt close enough to him to both give him a nickname and to excitedly invite them on their exploits.  It was fun, it was addicting.  Lotfy learned filmmaking on the fly, and his original skill was that of “experiencier.”  We could vicariously through him experience what it’s like to in some way be accepted into the ranks of the 12 O’clock Boyz.

It should be mentioned you watch some of his footage it becomes apparent that Latfi has a great eye, and tremendous skill on the camera, even under major duress.  And also that there are a number of complex social and politcal themes that Lotfy made great efforts to capture through his filmmaking.  Still however, Lotfy’s rising success in the industry is both interesting and somewhat unlikely story, especially for not yet having a final cut of the film.  He has over the years created a number of promotional materials for the film which function as either shorts or trailers, depending on which one you look that  Most of these preliminarily introduce his major characters as well as showcase some of the best shots that he received. For many of these shots, Lotfy went back and composed a few shots, a few times using the tool of a “phantom camera,” which provides a kind of extremely high-quality slow motion.  It is through these kind of measures that Lotfy has gone back to the footage he shot and mixed it in with more consciously aesthetic components.

Additionally,  In order to continue funding the project after years of shooting, Lotfy launched a kickstarter campaign, which an be found at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1457073935/twelve-oclock-in-baltimore.  Lotfy states on his kickstarter:

“The riders, converging from all parts of the inner city, regard their practice both as a recreation and a protest. The dirt bike culture of Baltimore is a primal and energetic response to the tension between social classes. When the riders embark on the city, they suddenly have a platform. It plays on the delicacy of their lives as they know it from their marginalized communities [3].”

While what Lotfy wrote is undoubtedly intriguing (and in conjunction with an extremely well-edited promotional video, netted him over 12,000) dollars, it is hard to shake the original image of a young man with nothing but a camera and a heart of adventure.  And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.


1.  Visiting Artist Talk with Lotfy Nathan, Johns Hopkins Univ. 02/08/12

2. Ibid.

3. Accessed 3/5/2012.  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1457073935/twelve-oclock-in-baltimore


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