Assistant Instructor Joel Potrykus' Film "Relaxer" to Have World Premiere at SXSW

Joel Potrykus in his office at ComArtSci

From covering the basics of storytelling to teaching feature filmmaking on a budget, independent filmmaker and assistant instructor Joel Potrykus teaches Media and Information students the filmmaking lessons he’s picked up in the real world.  

“Making movies takes everything out of me,” said Potrykus. “The teaching part is where I can finally relax and unpack the experience for somebody else and tell them what I did wrong and bring some real-world experience into the classroom.”

Award Winning Films

His award-winning films have gained him recognition over the years, from winning Best New Director at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland for "Ape", about a struggling comedian, to the SXSW follow up feature film, "Buzzard", about a paranoid small-town scam artist. Two years later, Potrykus made "The Alchemist Cookbook", about a young hermit suffering from delusions and hoping to crack an ancient mystery. 

The filmmaker has reached a point in his career where film festivals are awaiting his next movie. Called a “visionary” by the SXSW Film Festival’s top programmer Janet Pierson in a recent IndieWire article, Potrykus is known for his quirky scripts and dark comedy roots.

"Relaxer" to Debut at SXSW

On March 9, his latest film "Relaxer" will have its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival, marking three consecutive SXSW appearances.

"Relaxer" is about a man named Abbie who in 1999, right before the uncertainty of Y2K, is bet by his brother that he cannot beat level 256 of Pac-Man – oh, and he’s not allowed to leave the couch.

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Film still from "Relaxer"

Starring Potrykus’ regular lead Joshua Burge and David Dastmalchian as his older brother, "Relaxer" fits right in with the filmmaker’s other zany cinematic successes. 

“At level 256 of Pac-Man, there is this glitch that happens and you can’t get past it so he literally stays on the couch trying to get past that level until Y2K hits,” said Potrykus. “And along the way, he’s gaining some kind of psychic powers through the power of the glitch of this game.”

Teachable Moments

With a string of successful movies behind him, the filmmaker isn’t slowing down. Potrykus says he aims to create a film every other summer and teach during the school year, bringing his experiences back to the classroom at MSU to share his lessons learned. 

“I want to show the students that you don’t have to go to L.A. or Hollywood to make a feature film. You can stay in Michigan and make movies that are relevant to the outside world,” said Potrykus. “I want to change the way people see filmmaking. That’s my goal.”

The SXSW Film Festival is in its 25th year and will host nine days of screenings from March 9 – 17. Potrykus’ "Relaxer" will make its world debut at the festival on Friday March 9 at 10:15 p.m. It was produced by Oscilloscope Laboratories and will be distributed by the company.  

By Nikki W. O’Meara