CHAMPAIGN — After director Randy Moore's parents divorced, his father moved to Orlando, Fla., where Randy would visit him each summer.
Dad always took him to Disney World, probably because he didn't know what else to do with him, Moore said Saturday after his movie, "Escape from Tomorrow," was shown at the 15th annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival.
At some point, Moore's memories of his father overlapped with Disney World, and he ended up writing "Escape" and shooting it guerilla-style at Disney World as well as Disneyland — without the knowledge or permission of Disney.
"Clearly this is a movie about somebody with father issues," Moore said during the panel discussion after the sold-out screening. "When it came time to writing it, I knew it couldn't be set anywhere else. I got amazing actors who drank the Kool-Aid and went with me."
Three of them joined him on stage after the screening at the Virginia Theatre:
— Roy Abramsohn, who plays Jim, the set-upon father who has just lost his job and whose imagination makes the family vacation to Disney World a horror-fantasy.
— Elena Schuber, who plays Emily, his nagging wife.
— Annet Mahendru, who plays Isabelle, a French girl who visits Disney World with another French girl. Jim becomes obsessed with them and follows them around the park, towing either his daughter or son with him.
Also joining them on stage was Soojin Chung, the South Korean editor who spent a year editing the movie, shot with consumer digital cameras at the theme parks, with additional footage shot elsewhere with Red cameras.
Moore didn't want the movie edited in Burbank or elsewhere in California because he wanted to keep it secret from Disney. Abramsohn, a Los Angeles-based actor, knew when he took the acting job that Disney didn't know about the movie.
"I had nothing left to lose," the actor said. "It sounded exciting to me. It was never a big thought process for me. I was getting paid. I figured the worst that could happen was I'd be charged with trespassing."
That didn't happen, but once a Disney security guard asked Abramsohn whether he was a celebrity because paparazzi were following him and taking his photographs. And guards sometimes asked why he and his son or daughter was riding the monorail all day, or certain rides over and over.
Abramsohn said he did wonder, though, whether Moore was crazy, or crazy like a fox, even though he finally concluded the movie had nothing to do with "punking Disney."
For Schuber, taking the acting job was a "no-brainer." She called the shoot fun. Mahendru joked about it:
"What? We weren't supposed to be there? I thought this is great. Somebody's paying me to go to Disney World to flirt with men."
Though shot on the sly guerilla-style, "Escape from Tomorrow" does not have a home-movie look, said director James Ponsoldt, who moderated the panel discussion and whose movie, "The Spectacular Now," was shown after "Escape." Ponsoldt called Moore's movie "visually ambitious."
"We didn't want a found-footage feel to it," Moore said. "That's one reason we shot in black-and-white. We tried to keep it locked down. We used trash cans, tables, chairs as tripods. We knew we shouldn't set up the way we wanted to set up."
Chung said she cut a lot of shaky footage out when editing. "They shot a lot. You could have made 10 feature films out of" their footage, she said.
The cast and crew spent 10 days in Orlando, two weeks in Anaheim and two weeks at Occidental Studios in Los Angeles, where they did green-screen work and set work. They later returned to Orlando to do some pickup shots at Disney World.
Moore and his friends and family financed the movie for $650,000, an amount the director was embarrassed to mention because he had felt the budget should have been $250,000.
So far, Disney has not sued the filmmakers or tried to prevent screenings of the movie. The Ebertfest screening was only the second "official" screening after Sundance earlier this year, Moore said. The movie, which does not yet have theatrical distribution, will travel to more festivals.
"Escape" created a buzz at Sundance, where screenings of it were packed and the festival added another to accommodate everyone who wanted to see it.
Some women in the Virginia audience felt "Escape" was a male fantasy. Schuber agreed but said those elements were what made her character hate her husband.
"Lots of women deal with that stuff, especially in L.A. where there are a lot of hot chicks," she said. "It happens all the time."
"It's his imagination. I didn't do anything," joked Mahendru.
Abramsohn said he doesn't view "Escape" as sexist and said it covers a lot of themes. One for his character is the loss of youth and innocence.
The actor said Jim is "rotting inside" and making bad choices as a father — for example, taking his son on rides that made the boy vomit just so dad could chase the two French girls.
One woman in the audience, though, thanked Moore for his "daring, inventive film."
Moore had "Escape" locked down for a year but after showing it at Sundance his sales agent recommended that 14 minutes be cut. He sent it back to Chung in Korea and got it back just three days ago in time for Ebertfest.
Before "Escape from Tomorrow," the Ebertfest audience saw another genre-defying film, the documentary "Kumare," in which Vikram Gandhi, who was born and raised in New Jersey, adopts an Indian accent to play a guru in Phoenix, where he attracts a dozen or so disciples before finally revealing he is a fake guru.
Gandhi appeared on stage after the screening with producer Stephen Feder, a 2002 graduate of the University of Illinois College of Media, which organizes Ebertfest each year.
They were joined by New Orleans resident Lily Keber, director of the new documentary "Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker" and film critic Matt Singer.
Keber said she had a "visceral" reaction to "Kumare" and would have to ponder certain details of it for a while.
The panel discussion after the screening ended with Gandhi adopting Guru Kumare's accent and leading the Ebertfest audience in yoga and then chanting, followed by applause.
For more on "Kumare," see a pre-Ebertfest story published in the April 14 News-Gazette. It's also online at http://bit.ly/XXtjVV.