Lecturer Jesse Moss Makes Out Like a 'Bandit' at SXSW

Thursday, March 17, 2016
Photo of Burt Reynolds resting his arm on Hal Needham's shoulder

Jesse Moss, a lecturer in the School of Cinema, produced and directed one of the most buzzed-about films at the South by Southwest festivals this month. The Bandit is a documentary about ’70s superstar Burt Reynolds, his best friend, roommate and stunt double Hal Needham, and the making of their unlikely smash-hit Smokey and the Bandit. As Moss accompanied Reynolds on the red carpet to a horde of press, the CMT Network announced that The Bandit will air in August.

“Moss’ doc doesn’t just focus on Needham’s directorial debut, but digs deep into the early careers of both men. Reynolds — then ‘the sexiest man ’ — was already famous for his work in Deliverance and The Longest Yard, yet never took his acting career all that seriously,” The Austin (Texas) Chronicle writes in a March 15 review. “ ... In the end, The Bandit is an intimate portrait of two good old boys, one badass automobile and a $4.3 million-budgeted dark horse that ended up netting $300 million and counting. Now that’s some serious banditry right there.”

The Bandit tells the action-packed story of the making of Smokey and The Bandit, while tracing the vivid personal journeys of Reynolds and Needham from obscurity to stardom and success and highlighting one of the most extraordinary relationships in Hollywood history.

“I think the documentary has what Smokey has; it has action, it has comedy and it has heart and so hopefully people will rediscover a film that they love and in doing so they’ll discover a lot about Burt that they didn’t know and also they will discover Hal Needham,” Moss tells WTOP News of Washington, D.C. “They might have known he directed the film but I’m sure they don’t know much about him.”

The Bandit plays next at the San Francisco International Film Festival, as the closing-night feature on May 5.

Moss is a San Francisco-based filmmaker. His short film Protect and Serve, about the Albuquerque Police Department’s wrongful killing of civilians, is featured on Amazon’s The New Yorker Presents series. His previous feature-length documentary, The Overnighters, received the Special Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, a Directors Guild of America nomination and was released theatrically by Drafthouse Films. Other films include Full Battle Rattle (SXSW Special Jury Prize), Speedo (SXSW 2003) and Con Man, for HBO.