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Building a documentary one brick at a time

Two hard-hitting filmmakers combine on feel-good LEGO story

Thorin Finch in a scene from the film.Courtesy of RADiUS

Daniel Junge and Kief Davidson make serious documentaries. Junge’s “Saving Face” (2012), about acid attacks against women in Pakistan, won a best short documentary Oscar. Davidson’s “Open Heart” (2013), a short about Rwandan children desperately in need of heart surgery, earned a nomination in the same category. So when the two got together to work on a film for the first time, they chose as their topic . . . LEGOs?

“It’s because we’ve done those others,” quips Junge about why he took on “A LEGO Brickumentary.” He’s on the phone from Los Angeles, where he and Davidson are promoting the movie.

“I was yearning to take on something lighter, that my 6-year-old son could watch,” adds Davidson. “I rediscovered the world of play through him while making this. We wanted to make a fun film that parents and children would enjoy.”

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As it happened, the subject turned out to be more serious and complex than they expected. And also with some intriguing similarities to making movies.

“LEGO is an open system with infinite possibilities,” explains Junge. “It can grow in all directions and parts can be combined in limitless ways. The same could be said about filmmaking. But ultimately you have to home in on your idea and ultimately have that idea take form.”

Kief Davidson teamed with Daniel Junge to make the film.Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/Getty

The two filmmakers got the idea for “Brickumentary” at the same time as the smash hit “The LEGO Movie” (2014) was under production. Both films benefited from the participation of the toy-making corporation.

“LEGO oversaw both films from their corporate perspective,” explains Junge. “LEGO are partners on the film in terms of the access they gave us and in helping us to promote the film. But they didn’t have editorial control. They gave us advisement and access, so they were partners in that sense.”

Nonetheless, the film at times seems to be promoting a product. As it demonstrates how the toy contributes to research at MIT and treating children with autism, LEGO takes on the aura of the greatest invention since the wheel, or at least the Segway.

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“With all due respect, I challenge that notion,” says Junge. “Our street cred in making hard-hitting, investigative, journalistic kinds of films is well established. If you really want to be a muckraker there are minor controversies around LEGO. But we looked at those and kind of said, if ever there was an opportunity to make an unabashedly positive film and one that celebrates life and that families can go to – How many films can you take your kids to? — this was the moment.”

“Believe me,” says Davidson, “if there was a huge component of controversy, it may have been explored, but at the end of the day you have to pick what your film is going to be about.”

“It’s not confrontational,” concludes Junge about the “Brickumentary.” “There are some big ideas being explored. We’re not just shilling for a brand.”


Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.