Day 5: Grand Finale at Mammoth Lakes Film Festival

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Lots of laughs today as the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival drew to a close.

The short Horseshoe Theory hilariously proves that politics makes strange bedfellows indeed.  A weapons deal between a white supremacist and a member of the Islamic State becomes, well, a romantic comedy. Director and writer Johnathan Daniel Brown perfectly cast Jackson Rathbone and Amir Malaklou as the pair in a film that was “inspired” in part by The Notebook and You Got Mail.  The 3 day shoot included a scene with a $50 jerry-rigged rain machine. Brown attests that he’s currently working on a feature adaptation of the project. “We want to place it in a bigger world – and we’re pitching it as Brokeback Mountain with more killing. We’re also working on another short – we like to make gross stories about silly vulgar things that terrify people.” And make them laugh.

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The international premiere of narrative feature The Great Unwashed was also brilliantly hilarious. Set in London and Wales with an absolutely spot-on cast of British comedy and sketch performers and writers, the story of a millennial (Jon Pointing) on the run from killer hairdressers is zany and inventive. Joining his hippie older brother (and co-writer Nick Horseman) and his wife in the Welsh woods – plus random loony neighbors –  the film mixes comic mobsters with the affect of a murderous A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Director and co-writer Louis Fonseca, a former stand-up comic himself,  culled his stellar cast perfectly. Shot in two weeks “in less than a square mile of the forest” he notes that the “hippie story line came first, and then we came up on what is the opposite of that – hairdressers. We felt like we were at holiday camp, we had such fun and we didn’t sleep much.” The film includes attack geese and the presence of the Welch “Spirit of the Forest.”  Fonseca says his father was the official “goose wrangler – geese are nasty creatures ready to attack visitors. We did our goose shot in one take.” Fonseca and Horseman are currently writing another film set in Wales -about a war between ice cream vendors.

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Withdrawn, the story of a slacker/small time grifter/aimless college graduate stars Aaron Keogh – “I’ve been training for this role for 25 years or so,” he jokes – as Aaron, with writer/director Adrian Murray as his put-upon roommate.  From trying to solve his Rubik’s cube to trying to hack into another’s credit card account, Aaron is a character for our time: lost, adrift, addicted to video games and Internet news.  Played out in many long takes, Murray says his cinematic approach was in part imagined due to “watching the menu background on Lost DVDs, where characters move in and out of frame. I was watching the show while sick, and I wondered if I could do that as a film. ” Most of the dialog was improv, with a cast of friends who knew who was going to bring what to the game. Of the protagonist’s news viewing habits, Murray remarks “I wanted to put his struggle in perspective. In another part of the world he’d be building a bomb. I was also commenting on the cycle of news and the information and knowledge degradation and loss.” The short Pet Monkey preceded the film, a wild and quirky piece about a man who wants to buy his girlfriend a pet monkey while secretly harboring a shed full of stuffed and plastic monkeys. Actor Sky Elobar spoke about the single day shoot in Rochester, N.Y., in which he was promised one of the art director’s purchased monkeys as a souvenir but groused that he “never got one.” Elobar was found by director Eric Maira off his titular role in late night cult favorite Greasy Strangler.

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Last but not least, the festival presented the amusing and touching documentary Dina,  which focuses on a woman with autism and other mental health issues. She survived a vicious  knife attack by an ex-boyfriend to marry kindly but more severely autistic Scott. Winner of the Grand Jury award at this year’s Sundance fest, the story offers an intimate portrait of a relationship as thoroughly relatable as it is special.

MLFF’s delightful fest trailer, featuring stop motion animation, was discussed preceding the film by co-director/creator Emily Hoffman. She’d attended the festival last year and was thrilled to be invited to make the trailer. “We had such an amazing time last year when we went to the hot springs at midnight, we knew we had to make the trailer about the springs outside town. We made stop motion puppets and placed them in goo made from borax, glue, and paint.” Hoffman’s roommate Dan Dietrich created the music which involves manipulated notes made from a recording of his own voice.  “It’s an awesome, ephemeral thing,” Hoffman says. “We wanted to make it nice because you have to listen to the trailer so many times,” she says. Hoffman crafted the trailer with partner Ariel Noltimier Strauss.

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We only wish we could listen to it longer – but these were the last screenings of MLFF 2017.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke