Wrestling with demons, ‘The Resurrection of Jake the Snake’ helps open 2015 Slamdance Film Festival

First Published      Last Updated Jan 18 2015 10:43 am

Documentary » The project began as an intervention staged by director Steve Yu, a longtime fan, and “Diamond” Dallas Page, Roberts’ fellow wrestler and onetime protégé.

The concept of professional wrestling is founded on exaggerated truth, the story always superseding reality for the sake of entertainment.

But for "Diamond" Dallas Page and Steve Yu on an afternoon only a few years ago, grim reality stood before them in the form of a 300-pound drug addict and alcoholic.

Jake "The Snake" Roberts, a legend to an entire generation of wrestling fans, had fallen from the top rope to a dark and hopeless place.

"I used to watch Jake when he was a superstar, so it was shocking to see such a small house. His head almost touched the ceiling in the house he was in," Yu said.

Yu and Page decided to take Roberts back to Page's house for an immersive, around-the-clock intervention that became the documentary "The Resurrection of Jake the Snake" — an entry in this year's Slamdance Film Festival, the indie-alternative event to the bigger Sundance Film Festival that runs Jan. 23-29 at the Treasure Mountain Inn in Park City.

Page would teach Roberts his "DDP Yoga" system while a team of friends and supporters would rally around him to keep him sober.

A three-time World Heavyweight Champion himself and protégé of Roberts' when he was younger, Page was skeptical "The Snake" could be brought back after the first few minutes of a workout left Roberts gasping for air and screaming in pain.

"When you were a super god at one point, you just think different. I didn't know how it would work," Page said.

The documentary follows Roberts' story, from a childhood full of trauma to Wrestlemania triumph to Page's living room, where he struggles to dry out from decades of substance abuse.

"Dallas and I didn't go into this thinking, 'We're going to help this alcoholic and drug addict,' " Yu said.

"We knew that Jake had kind of lost hope in his life and that he needed some help with his health. It turned into something we didn't expect it to."

Roberts, born Aurelian Smith Sr., struggles on screen with demons common to once-famous athletes: relying on a character and artificial bravado found in the ring to mask the need for real, substantial help.

"He made up this guy named Jake 'The Snake' Roberts. Aurelian Smith is scared to death of snakes," Page said. "Jake Roberts will get out there and play with cobras in front of 22,000 people."

The world premiere of the film will kick off the festival on Friday. It will screen once more on Jan. 27.

Roberts' journey is a long one, filled with slip-ups and triumphs captured through the raw emotions of Yu's film. At the end of the documentary, "The Snake" doesn't hoist a championship belt over his head or bury an opponent with a patented DDT.

But with a lot of help from Page and Yu, he manages to pin a few demons for the three count, hopefully, for good.

"A lot of people give up hope," Page said. "No matter how negative life gets, there's always a way to turn it around."


Twitter: @BrennanJSmith



2015 Slamdance Film Festival

Slamdance runs Jan. 23-29 at the Treasure Mountain Inn, 255 Main St., Park City.

This year’s festival includes a competition slate of more than two dozen narrative and documentary films. There’s also a full program of shorts and special events.

Passes and individual tickets are available online at www.slamdance.com.

The world premiere of “The Resurrection of Jake the Snake” is Friday at 10:35 a.m. The film will screen once more on Jan. 27 at 9 p.m. It is an entry in the festival’s Documentary Competition category.

Opening screening Jan. 23, 8 p.m. » The world premiere of “Bloodsucking Bastards,” a horror-comedy described as “Office Space” meets “Shaun of the Dead.” “When an office worker at a soul-crushing company loses his coveted promotion to his longtime nemesis, he begins to fear for more than his job as strange disappearances and bizarre deaths suggest the office is turning into a haven for the undead.” Cast: Fran Kranz, Pedro Pascal, Joey Kern, Joel Murray, Emma Fitzpatrick, Yvette Yates, Justin Ware, Marshall Givens.

Closing screening Jan. 29, 1:15 p.m. » The world premiere of writer-director Gabrielle Demeestere’s “Yosemite,” starring James Franco. “Yosemite” is described as “a film that chronicles the intertwining tales of three fifth-grade friends which unfold in the suburban paradise of Palo Alto, as the threat of a mountain lion looms over the community.”