It wasn't long ago in my part of the world that I observed a cozy, indie breakfast and lunch joint being blown out of existence by the arrival of one of those chain/franchise egg palaces across the road from it. So I was in more than a sympathetic mood for the goings-on in Tom Atkins Blues, a 2010 German based indie by British ex-pat writer/director Alex Ross. Shot in 11 days with a crew of six and a budget that wouldn't come close to maxing out a college student's credit card, the film features scripted acting parts based on Ross' own experiences in Germany, with interviews with some of the actual locals who lived the life in his old neighbourhood.
Tommy (played by Ross) runs the Spatkauf (Late Night Shop) that he has been looking after in the former East Berlin since a bit after the fall of the wall. His gal-pal, a woman unimpressed with what she perceives as a serious lack of ambition on his part, leaves him. The pain of the breakup is eased for the shopkeeper by the community around his enterprise - people come to chat, buy a beer, and sit outside - maybe to play some chess or a musical instrument. Tommy's place is one of life and vitality - especially with drunks trying to raise the ceiling on the tabs they owe or lazy friends who hang around to pick up women. The bubble bursts for all when a refurbished supermarket around the corner signals the gentrifying tides of change that Tommy is powerless to stop. Customers disappear, business dives, and the eclectic multinational group of people who have regarded the shop as a kind of second home come to realize the worst is yet to come.
Without the pressures of earning enough box office receipts to pay for a studio full of lawyers, Ross is able to take full advantage of the true freedom micro-budget filmmaking affords. The pacing is leisurely and the storyline is hardly stuffed but the results feel highly genuine. A charming tale of friendship and community, Tom Atkins Blues is firmly set in its German locale but has a universal voice that all can connect to. It greatly helps that the cast is well chosen and delivers likable performances throughout, matched by sharp production values and a highly appropriate musical score. Unlike many so-called indies that try to function as Hollywood studio cover letters, this film succeeds in showing that strategic plot points can't compete with earnest reflection and expression. What Tom Atkins Blues lacks in adrenaline, it more than compensates for with atmospheric richness and a warm spirit.
If you didn't catch this film's run on Cinema Zero (congrats to them for continuing to showcase such worthy independent work), you can always have a gander at the DVD.
Man, that Spatkauf must have been one cool place!