Photograph by Kristiina Wilson
To the average YouTuber, the name Chris Crocker evokes images of a tragic, strangely beautiful young man with tear-smudged eyeliner, snarling “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!” into a cheap webcam. But to watch filmmakers Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch’s debut documentary, Me @ the Zoo, is to understand the androgynous vlogger and the technological biome in which he thrives on an intimate and eye-opening level. “The film came out of an interest in changing trends in performance,” says Moukarbel, “and people no longer thinking of acting as performing in a traditional sense.”
Veatch and Moukarbel had planned a broader documentary exploring reality television until they met Crocker in 2009. “It just became more and more apparent that his story was so much more important than some of the other things we were thinking about,” says Moukarbel. “But it was also a way to get at those ideas and allow him to tell his story.” With unfettered access to the complete footage Crocker has been shooting since 2006, the pair crafted their doc mostly in post-production. “It was the challenge of making a documentary of someone who’s already making a documentary of his life,” says Moukarbel.
By skillfully editing a surfeit of source material, the end result lyrically reveals a Crocker of complexity and intelligence, an eccentric, lonely prodigy bullied out of school, who harnessed the Internet for self-expression, community, and stardom.
And while the filmmakers say they’re uneasy with social media, they’re trying to get used to the spotlight, thanks to rave reviews the film earned at Sundance.
“It was like a wedding,” says Veatch of the festival. “So much happens and there’s so many people, but at the end, you didn’t really talk to anybody and it was kind of a blur.”