David Filmore is a mild-mannered filmmaker. A Shabbat-observant Jew from Australia who moved to West Hollywood 10 years ago, he spends his days focused on his production company, Plutonian Films.
Few might suspect that the 36-year-old with shoulder-length curly hair has something in common with comic book characters like Batman and Spider-Man. But at night, the self-professed sci-fi nerd patrols Los Angeles as his caped alter ego — Hero Man.
“It’s a kind of redemption thing,” said Filmore, who adopted the persona after he was robbed.
Filmore is part of a worldwide movement of real-life superheroes who take to the streets, either solo or in teams, to fight crime and do good deeds. There are at least 300 costumed crusaders in the United States, according to those who participate in this comic book-inspired movement.
While Filmore might be Los Angeles’ first Jewish superhero, other Jews have taken up the real-life superhero mantle. Chaim Lazaros, production manager at Jewish Educational Media, draws on Jewish values when he defends the vulnerable in New York City under the moniker Life, wearing a Green Hornet-like costume with tzitzit. Together with Ben Goldman (aka Cameraman), Lazaros co-founded the group Superheroes Anonymous.
Hero Man patrols Los Angeles’ streets a few times each week in his fully equipped “attack vehicle,” a black Nissan SUV outfitted with a glowing red ray gun on its roof. In November, Filmore launched a Web site, savemeheroman.com, to field requests for help from the bullied and the victimized.
Filmore said he gets about five to 10 inquiries each week, a few of which are illegal or outlandish.
“One woman wanted me to literally destroy her ex-husband’s apartment,” he said, adding that he is inspired by the desire to seek justice, not vigilantism.
Filmore says he won’t involve himself in divorces, vendettas, paybacks or blood feuds, and directs those who need immediate assistance to call 911.
The idea for Hero Man was planted in Filmore’s mind following transformative events in 2007. Shortly after his apartment was burglarized, Filmore was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, ulcerative colitis, which left him hospitalized. Feeling powerless in the hospital and dissatisfied with the police’s response to the crime prepared him for his work as a superhero, he said.
“When I was lying in hospital and faced with death, I decided I was going to live life to the fullest and pursue everything I ever wanted to,” Filmore said.
Inspired by a philosophy rooted in Torah and a love of comic books, Filmore donned his costume – a black cape, a Star of David pendant and a “Star Wars” lightsaber. He offers his help to anyone who needs it.
“My wanting to be a superhero is motivated by wanting to help people and engage in tikkun olam,” he said.
And help, he does. As a testimonial, an East Hollywood resident wrote: “Late one night I was walking home after my shift and I was being hassled by these scary guys waiting at a bus stop. Hero Man was driving by and offered me a ride home, which I immediately accepted. I’m so glad he was there — who knows what those guys might have done if he hadn’t been there.”
Trained in Krav Maga and tae kwon do, Hero Man functions like a quasi-Batman, patrolling the streets and alleys. He says most of his late-night alley crawls are uneventful, but there have been times when the situation became serious.
“I got stabbed in the leg once, and it created a hole 3 inches wide and was so deep you could see my femur,” he said, describing a run-in with a rooftop burglar.
Like Batman, Hero Man also does reconnaissance work. He recently photographed a woman’s ex-boyfriend violating the terms of a restraining order by parking outside of her home.
“I’ll e-mail her [the photo] and she can forward this to the cops, and this guy will probably go to jail,” he said.
While on patrol, Filmore’s encounters with passers-by create more smiles than broken bones. Tourists, locals and vagrants alike are amused by the ray gun on Hero Man’s car as it lights up on Sunset Boulevard.
Filmore, who was nominated for a Jewish Community Heroes Award last year, chronicled the transformation of his sickly, bed-ridden self to the daring and zany adventurer Hero Man in his 2010 documentary, “Hero Man,” which is making the rounds at film festivals.
“Hero Man” was filmed over three years and shows Filmore performing everything from parkour maneuvers to taking on karate masters and professional wrestlers in controlled combat settings.
“As a filmmaker, I see it as my job to sprinkle a little bit of fairy dust into people’s lives, and being a superhero is an extension of that,” Filmore said. “If I can help someone with a problem and also brighten their day with wonder, then I’ve made the world a better place to live.”