Missus Wyrm, again, with another highlight from this year’s Fantastic Fest. As much as we Fantastic Fest fans love our gruesome horror, gritty sci-fi, and just all-out surreal weirdness, sometimes its nice, even necessary, to break up the thrills and chills with a little heart - and I don’t mean the kind that’s ripped, still beating, from a victim’s chest. For that reason, I’d like to bid a sincere thank you to the Fantastic Fest programmers for bringing us THE HISTORY OF FUTURE FOLK.
This charming feature debut, written by John Mitchell and directed by Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker, stars Nils d’Aulaire and Jay Klaitz (the duo comprising real-life Brooklyn bluegrass band, Future Folk) as aliens from the planet Hondo. Unfortunately, like other movie planets before it, Hondo appears doomed to death-by-comet. In a heroic effort to save his people, General Trius (Nils d’Aulaire) sets a course for earth, intent on killing off mankind with a flesh-eating virus, thus clearing the way for the Hondorians to move in. His plans are derailed, however, when after crash landing on earth, General Trius wanders into a discount superstore and hears music for the first time. Instantly enamored by it, he decides that humans, though flawed, deserve to live for having created something so beautiful and enriching. Hondorians are, apparently, quick learners and General Trius easily assimilates into life among earthlings. He takes up the banjo, adopts the name ‘Bill,‘ finds work, gets married, has a daughter, and settles into a comfortable life as a family man and musician, gracing local bars with his quirky space man-themed musical act.
Unfortunately, Bill’s idyllic life is interrupted when the Hondorians, weary of waiting for him to complete his mission, send an assassin named Kevin (Jay Klaitz), to take out their errant general and get the plan back on track. Kevin, however, isn’t quite up to the task and is easily subdued by Bill/General Trius. In a fantastic scene showcasing d’Aulaire’s musical talent, Bill has captured Kevin and proceeds to perform for him an impressive medley of varied tunes on his banjo. Kevin is equally taken with this new sound sensation and immediately becomes an ardent music fan. He takes up guitar and joins Bill on stage, forming a band, Future Folk.
Of course, the Hondorians aren’t ready to give up on earth just yet, and they send along a third party to get the job done. Will Bill and Kevin be able to save the earth, including Bill’s wife and daughter, from the Hondorians? Can they save the Hondorians from the comet that threatens to destroy their planet?
This is a low-budget, indie film to be sure. The effects, for example, are very minimal. Rather than grandiose shots of space and a realistic looking portrayal of the planet Hondo, Mitchell cleverly introduces our protagonist’s back story through the bed time story Bill tells his daughter, and we see his home planet charmingly represented by the crayon drawings they make together. The costumes, too, are exceedingly simple, a fact that is played for laughs to great effect. Mitchell never intends to immerse his audience in a sci-fi world, but instead seeks to tell a very real, very human story that exalts love, not just for music, but for each other as well.
At risk of sounding like I’m just gushing all over THE HISTORY OF FUTURE FOLK, I really can’t stress how much I enjoyed it. Sure, it’s a fairly simple film. It doesn’t break new ground technically and there’s no shocking surprise twist of an ending, but it is solid, sweet, and satisfying. In short, it is everything it needs to be. In fact, it reminds me quite a bit of a previous Fantastic Fest favorite from director Yoshihiro Nakamura, FISH STORY, in which earth is about to be destroyed by a comet, and a 37-year-old Japanese punk song might just be the only thing that can save us. Not only do the two films share some thematic similarity, but both are delightfully quirky in their own ways, and have the kind of heart that leaves you with a smile on your face, long after the screen fades to black and the last strains of the credit songs drift away. Most interesting to me, though, is how the filmmakers behind both films posit that music has the power to save the world. If that concept seems far-fetched, one need only look at the experiences of deaf people hearing music for the first time. You perhaps may have already read about Austin Chapman, a 23-year-old who has spoken online and to the media about his first experiences with music. If you’re not already familiar with his story, you can read about it here: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/08/what-its-like-for-a-deaf-person-to-hear-music-for-the-first-time/260890/. Though I doubt he instantly mastered the banjo or guitar, Mr. Chapman’s emotional experience and subsequent fascination with music is very much like that portrayed by the Hondorians in Mitchell’s film, underscoring just how human a story it is.
Personally, I can’t wait to sit down for a feel-good FISH STORY/FUTURE FOLK double feature. In the meantime, I shall content myself with listening to Future’s Folk music, which is available on iTunes. You may want to do yourself a favor and check it out.