The recent big screen look on the life and times of fellow rebel auteur Robert Altman was proof that taking a slightly different approach to the biography documentary format can yield interesting results. Sam Fuller was a filmmaker whose colourful life was every bit as richly dramatic as his cinematic output and this Kickstarter documentary (put together by his own daughter Samantha) doubles as an absorbing trip through US history and society.

A celebrated screenwriter, novelist and director, Fuller began his heady career via journalism as a newspaper copyboy before becoming a crime reporter in New York City at the age of 17. He came of age during The Great Depression and fought overseas as an infantryman in the Second World War, having already established himself as a filmmaker of repute and writer of popular pulp paperbacks. All this is brought to vivid life through the wealth of contributors who offer up onscreen narrations from the subject’s self-penned 2003 memoir.

Youngest participant James Franco awkwardly shuffles in for the first chapter reading, but it’s the older line-up who make more of a mark as the film progresses. Those who knew the man bring a welcome intimacy, and fellow filmmakers like Joe Dante, William Friedkin, James Toback and Wim Wenders offer surprisingly heartfelt renditions of the text, particularly Friedkin, whose impassioned call to arms in the last chapter makes you question why he hasn’t flirted with more appearances in front of the lens during his career.

Actor Bill Duke is perhaps the closest in spirit to Fuller on screen – his deep, velvety tenor skilfully nailing the cadence. There’s also of number of cast members from Fuller’s 1980 war picture The Big Red One on hand to recount his experiences in battle, all of them (including Mark Hamill) now a far cry from the fresh-faced recruits they played within the film. All this is told with supportive photos and recently unearthed archival 16mm footage of Fuller documenting his time in the army, which makes for a constantly entertaining endeavour.

The narrators are filmed in a study cluttered with memorabilia and an array of material from Fuller’s life, and this offers up the impression that they’re essentially making a brief trip into the very mind of the subject. This setting and the unique representation of her father’s timeline allows Samantha Fuller to really emphasise his skills as a masterful storyteller, while also providing a fascinating glimpse of life imitating and informing art, and vice versa.

A Fuller Life
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Mild-mannered civilian by day, passionate cinephile and dedicated blogger at night, my obsession began with seeing the image of Luke staring wistfully at the two stars of Tatooine, and 30-plus years later, that love have never wavered.