When Michael Moore, the king of attention-grabbing documentary movies, asks you to fly to his film festival in Traverse City, Michigan, and speak about an emerging genre called "dangerous" documentaries, you know you're raising some eyebrows. That's what recently happened to Malik Bader, the director of Street Thief, which stunned audiences at the Tribeca Film Festival. For the project, the filmmaker sought the advice of professional burglars before attempting break-ins on camera.
"To stand out on a limited budget, you've got to make things happen," says Bader, 33. "We wanted to make something that would get people's attention."
It did. Street Thief, which gets its cable première on June 21st on A&E, played at festivals as far away as Buenos Aires and Locarno, Italy. At every stop, people approached Bader, curious whether the slovenly main character, Kaspar Carr-who trolls corner marts, movie theatres, and clubs in search of the perfect heist-is a real thief. Like Borat mastermind Sacha Baron Cohen, Bader becomes elusive when asked what in the movie is fiction and what, if anything, actually happened. "All of our filming was done covertly-cameras in helmets, little cameras in bags," he answers cryptically. "We put our money where our mouth was-making it as realistic as possible by interviewing real burglars and not using extras."
Bader's inspiration stems from such films as Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket and Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets and from movies he and his younger brother, Sam, used to sneak into theatres at Ford City to see. They'd nestle into the back row, squirreling away ambitious filmmaking fantasies of their own. In 2000, the pair founded Bader Brothers Productions in Wicker Park, where Malik lives with his wife, Norma. The brothers are currently at work on a fraternally themed script about a criminal who returns home to Chicago to help his sibling accomplish one last score. Although he had a leading role in the film Death of a President and has recently signed with Creative Artists Agency, Bader plans for now on staying in the Midwest. "There are great places to film in Chicago," he says. "We've shown it's realistic for filmmakers to achieve goals right here."