Luke Korem had no trouble finding common ground with the subject of his latest documentary, Dealt, which chronicles the life of blind card magician Richard Turner.
Starting when he was 6, the Richardson native performed alongside his father, Dan, during his professional magic shows in the 1980s.
“I performed quite a bit until I was about 15 and picked up a video camera,” Korem said. “That’s when everything just changed.”
Yet while Korem’s focus shifted to filmmaking, he retained an affinity for magic that led him to Turner. Dan Korem wrote some books on sleight of hand, is friends with Turner, and arranged a meeting with Luke, who lives in Austin. Turner is based in San Antonio.
“It’s important that you have a personal connection to a film,” Luke Korem said. “For me, growing up with magic, I instantly had a rapport with Richard.”
Without revealing too many technical secrets, the film provides a straightforward glimpse into his rise to modest fame as a self-proclaimed “card mechanic,” and his remarkable ability to perform legitimate card tricks despite being totally blind. He’s almost always shuffling or dealing, as his thousands of unopened decks in his house can attest.
However, Turner also faces some personal turmoil surrounding his family and his health, mostly stemming from his stubbornness toward confronting the natural adversity his affliction causes.
“We didn’t want to make a film that would just cater to magicians. Most people love a good magic trick, but that’s only going to take you so far,” Korem said. “I wanted to make a film that would allow people to see something in themselves. They would see how adversity can be just looked as an opportunity, and how Richard represents unlocking your potential. The magic was secondary.”
Korem (Lord Montagu) graduated from Berkner High School in Richardson, where he became enamored with filmmaking while taking a class that produced a weekly news program for classmates.
“I started doing things that really wasn’t news about school but was just more entertaining,” he said. “I got suspended from that class three times but they kept bringing me back. My teacher and I had a very love-hate relationship.”
With Dealt, Korem’s basic knowledge of magic informed some of the cinematography and how to capture the performance sequences that highlight Turner’s tricks. However, he quickly learned that Turner’s career as a performer was only part of the story.
For example, his approach changed after a year of filming because of some personal issues in Turner’s life. Fortunately for Korem, he had established a sense of trust by that time that allowed his subject to open up about things he doesn’t normally share with the public.
“He doesn’t want people to know that he’s blind, and he doesn’t want help from other people. Things have happened in his life that made him callous to that,” Korem said. “That bubbled to the surface while we were filming, so we reversed course. Making a documentary, you have to be flexible and you have to be constantly listening to your subject and what the story is telling you.”
Audiences are always amazed and inspired when they’re watching Turner in action, and after following him around for months, Korem came away with the same reaction — but for a completely different reason.
“He’s always living in the moment,” Korem said. “He thinks of every day as a wonderful part of the journey. When you’re an optimistic person, that’s really infectious for other people. I want people to be inspired. Richard shows you that you have so much potential if you work at it.”
NOTE: Luke Korem and Richard Turner will conduct a Q&A after screenings of Dealt on Friday and Saturday evening at the Alamo Drafthouse Cedars.