October 4, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 53°F


A Childhood Treasure

Indiana Jones hangs on to a speeding truck for dear life, a cloud of dust rising around him. The musical score swells, as if encouraging Indy to hold on. The hero works his way back into the vehicle, forcing out the driver while flashing his characteristic grin as he navigates through the rough terrain.

The scene’s most surprising detail is that the archaeologist is not the grown and grizzled Harrison Ford — but a young boy with fake stubble and the gleam of real determination in his eyes.

The scene’s similarity to “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” is a testament to the seven years that three young Mississippi boys — director Eric Zala, producer and star Chris Strompolos, and cinematographer Jayson Lamb — spent creating “Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation,” a shot-for-shot remake of the 1981 classic.

Cornell Cinema is the latest to host the adaptation, with a screening tomorrow and Saturday followed by a question-and-answer session with Zala.

Christopher Riley, Cornell Cinema’s managing director, said he is excited to host the film and looks forward to learning more about the film process the boys endured.

“It’s sort of like one of Indiana Jones’ treasures,” Riley said. “I am personally interested in talking to Eric about his experience as the director, trying to put all this together.”

After seeing the original “Raiders of the Lost Ark” upon its release, Zala said he and Strompolos were inspired by the film. The two boys, at 11 and 12 years old, decided to make their own adaptation of the film.

“As director, I wanted to see what a shot-by-shot remake of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ with teenage actors looked like,” Zala said. “The only way to find out was to make the movie.”

While Zala, Strompolos and Lamb began filming in 1982, the film was not completed until 1989.

“It consumed our entire childhood,” Zala said.

Zala said that the gargantuan task of realistically remaking “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was only possible because of the bonds the boys shared.

“[It was] the strength of the working friendship Chris and I had, and to another extent Jayson,” Zala said. “If you’ve spent five years and you quit, you let your buddies down.”

After shooting the film, the long process of editing began. A local television station let the boys use its editing equipment during the late hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“We lived like vampires for a summer,” Zala said.

They celebrated their finished product with a premiere in their hometown of Ocean Springs, Miss. After that, Zala only occasionally showed the film to school and work friends.

In early 2003, a copy of the adaptation got into the hands of Eli Roth, director of “Cabin Fever” and “Hostel,” by complete chance, Zala said. Roth passed along the copy to executives at DreamWorks Studios, who then showed it to Steven Spielberg.

The strong positive reaction to the adaptation brought Zala, Strompolos and Lamb’s childhood project into the spotlight. A proper premiere was organized by Tim League, a friend of Roth’s, in May 2003 at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas.

Harry Knowles, writer for the popular Web site,

attended the show and raved about the work of fandom. “Raiders: The Adaptation” began attracting massive attention on the Internet shortly after.

Riley said the press coverage following the Austin screening first attracted the attention of Cornell Cinema. The three men’s feat should serve as a model of success for young filmmakers.

“It is relevant especially to the film students at Ithaca College, who are trying to do things along these lines, trying to make great things out of very little,” Riley said.

In the five years since its Hollywood-backed premiere, the adaptation has been featured at more than 70 screenings across the world.

Sophomore Kristyne Fetsic, a cinema production major, is a longtime fan of the “Indy” franchise. Fetsic said she is planning to attend the “Raiders: The Adaptation” screening at Cornell Cinema.

“They’re getting so much recognition for three guys that just decided to do this one day,” Fetsic said. “I really have a lot of respect for them.”

To Zala, showing “Raiders: The Adaptation” to film students is an especially meaningful part of the screenings.

“People seem to have taken a lot from our film,” Zala said. “We know the value of being inspired ourselves. We would like to give back a little bit, because we’re certainly grateful for all the attention we’ve received.”

Zala said the most exciting moment came when he, Strompolos and Lamb met Spielberg in February 2004.

“[It was] the most amazing thing going through these gigantic ‘Jurassic Park’ gates,” Zala said.

A 2004 Vanity Fair article about the adaptation made many producers, including Scott Rudin, producer of “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood,” interested in making a film about Zala, Strompolos and Lamb’s personal story.

The three accepted Rudin’s offer. Zala said Daniel Clowes, writer of “Ghost World,” has written a script that has been favorably received.

The positive reception of “Raiders: The Adaptation” has led Zala and Strompolos to leave their corporate jobs and return to Mississippi, where they are working on a southern gothic adventure film set in contemporary times.

Zala said he hopes those who are inspired by his film the way he was inspired by the original “Raiders of the Lost Ark” take some important lessons with them.

“Push voices of doubt and self-doubt aside, push ahead and do it anyway,” Zala said. “Finish. Don’t take no for an answer. People don’t take you seriously when you’re young. Just keep at it.”

Both screenings will be held in Willard Straight Hall at 7:15 p.m. Student tickets are $4 and can be purchased both at the Willard Straight Hall ticket desk and at the door.