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Local filmmaker's Batman documentary premiering at Tampa Theatre

Batman is renowned for his ability to unsettle and overpower his opponents, but it's his power to uplift and inspire his fans that captivates “Legends of the Knight” producer-director Brett Culp.

Financed independently by two crowd-funding campaigns, “Legends of the Knight” is a 75-minute documentary exploring the power of storytelling and how it impacts real lives, using Gotham City's Dark Knight as a lens. Culp, a Tampa native, is launching the world premiere at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Tampa Theatre.

“Legends of the Knight” kicked off production in April 2012, with Culp conducting 64 interviews in 15 cities across the United States. There are 13 stories profiling Batman enthusiasts, whose love of the character provided motivation in their lives, spurred them to undertake community improvements and helped counter traumatic obstacles. Also interviewed are such Dark Knight authorities as Michael E. Uslan, executive producer of every Batman film since 1989, and Batman writer-editor Denny O'Neil.

Culp built his filmmaking career telling documentary-style stories for not-for-profits and corporations, and he found the impact of the format compelling.

“I've spent two weeks filming in Haiti and then shown people a 5-minute film about the experience and had it change them, the way they view the world, and the way they viewed Haiti and their desire to get involved,” Culp told AirlockAlpha.com at Comic-Con International this summer. “And I wanted to investigate why. Why does that happen? Why are we drawn to that?

“And as I was going through the process I realized we ought to talk about heroes and hero stories.”

A lifelong Batman fan, Culp sees today's superheroes as worthy counterparts to many heroic characters of the past and that “loving these characters and celebrating these characters is a very human, wonderful, beautiful thing to do.” Although Batman's stories can sometimes embrace darker themes, Culp points out that there are often “very bright” messages attached.

“I think that has changed as society has changed, and Batman has kind of become the hero that people can relate to,” he explained. “So we live in a time today that is very gray and where it's kind of cynical and dark. And so Batman has become a darker character for more contemporary, adult stories in our generation.

“But the heart of Batman is a very hopeful, very positive message, which is that one man can make a difference.”

For Uslan, executive producer of the upcoming Zack Snyder film “Batman vs. Superman,” that message is what makes Culp's project so fascinating and emotional.

“We all have to believe that one person can make a difference in this world,” Uslan recently told the Tampa Tribune. “We have to believe in ourselves in that regard, and I think Brett through this documentary is certainly proving that he is making a difference in the world, too. He is really someone who gives a damn about people and about social causes. And to see him with such dedication and passion commit himself to making this happen and seeing it through to fruition despite overwhelming odds … I think in that sense Brett becomes a real-life superhero.”

Cary A. Friedman, who provided Culp inspiration for “Legends of the Knight” with his 2006 book “Wisdom from the Batcave: How to Live a Super, Heroic Life,” was also profiled for the documentary and, in the process, found the heart behind the project stirring.

Two fundamental lessons, which took center stage in Friedman's book, are a core part of the documentary: that there is no end to what someone can accomplish in the world and that life's tough moments can be turned into triumphant victories.

“It's fabulous, you can't watch it without being all choked up,” Friedman said. “It's such a poignant, powerful kind of presentation. You can't help but walk away from the movie with some sense of: 'I got to incorporate this into my life. I could do things. This could be me.' I think there can be no greater accomplishment.”

“Legends of the Knight” is a not-for-profit project. Proceeds will benefit charities, and the Tampa premiere will support Metropolitan Ministries.

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