Rio Grind Film Fest: The History of Future Folk charms and beguiles

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Jeremy Kipp Walker is one cool customer.

When the Straight phones the producer and co-director of The History of Future Folk at his Brooklyn, N.Y. home, Hurricane Sandy is bearing down menacingly, a mere three hours from landfall. But Walker isn’t fazed in the slightest; he’s cheerful and gregarious and eager to talk about his new movie.

Premiering this Friday (November 2) as part of the Rio Grind Film Festival, Future Folk is billed as a science fiction comedy, but it’s also kind of unclassifiable. Imagine putting Starman, Flight of the Conchords, and Bored to Death in a blender, sprinkle in some Gentlemen Broncos and maybe a dash of, well, Bound for Glory, and what you get is a whole lot more than just the sum of its parts.

The result is an absolutely charming, fun, and captivating moviegoing experience—and a film that proudly wears its alien heart on its sleeve.

Focusing on General Trius (Nils d’Aulaire), Future Folk appears at first to be a simple tale of a stranger in a strange land. We soon learn, however, that Trius’ presence has a darker purpose: with his home planet, Hondo, about to be destroyed by a comet, he’s been sent to Earth to kill everyone and prepare it for colonization.

But a funny thing happens on the way to the end of the world. Just as Trius is about to release the virus that will end all human life—in a Costco, no less—he suddenly becomes aware of a strange, enchanting sound. It’s just muzak, but it’s a completely new and humbling experience for Trius, having come from the completely music-less world of Hondo.

Before you know it, Trius has cancelled the plague, gone AWOL, married and had a daughter, and, oh yes, started a bluegrass act in Brooklyn. When The Mighty Kevin (Jay Klaitz) arrives from Hondo to finish the mission, he too decides to forsake his duties and become a musician, and the band Future Folk is born.

When it’s mentioned that Future Folk isn’t like anything ever seen before, Walker laughs heartily. “It’s also like so many things you’ve seen before!” he says, happy to point out that the film is filled with familiar science fiction themes and tropes, “elements that allow us to tell this other odd story on top of it.”

It also becomes quickly clear that Future Folk is an actual honest-to-God band. “They’ve played together in various dive bars over the years,” says Walker. “When they come on stage it’s pretty hilarious, and by the time you’re three pints in it’s the best thing you’ve ever seen.”

When Walker and his co-director and screenwriter John Mitchell were looking to film their first feature together, they had a couple of false starts and then realized that perhaps their scope was too large. “We said, ‘What about Future Folk? These characters already exist, there’s some music…’ and so we sat down with them and they were game.”

While the film looks like a million bucks (literally), the co-directors were able to bring it in for a lot, lot less. “It was a microbudget film, $150,000 in total which is still a decent chunk of money but by film standards it’s barely a shooting day,” says Walker, who has in the past produced larger-budget films like Half Nelson and It’s Kind of a Funny Story.

“It’s about twelve years of favors called in. We took stock as filmmakers and said, ‘Okay, what can we pull off, who do we know, what do we have access to,’ and John did the great job of not only adapting these characters to a screenplay but also reverse-engineering it to what we could actually get for free or next-to-free. We pulled it together, patch by patch.”

Talking to Walker, it’s clear that Future Folk was something special for everyone involved. “Nils and Jay, in addition to being great musicians and talented actors, they’re very dear friends of ours here in Brooklyn,” he says. “It just felt like an extension of something we might be doing anyway on a weekend and it became a lot of fun. You’re able to harness this energy where anything’s possible and oftentimes the crews really bond on these lower-budget films, where everyone’s doing it because they absolutely want to.”

That enthusiasm is evident in the finished product, with a film that’s upbeat and sincere without ever being cloying, or campy. It’s even sweetly romantic, as both men from Hondo find love on Earth. For Kevin, it’s with a streetwise New York policewoman (April Hernandez Castillo), and for Trius it’s with the earthling he marries (Julie Ann Emery), and their young daughter (Onata Aprile).

“I spared the human race because I fell in love with music,” Trius tells his wife, “but in the end, that’s not why I stayed. I stayed because I fell in love with you.” It’s a magic moment, deftly handled by first-time actor d’Aulaire.

If magic moments, alien bluegrass, and endearing sincerity weren’t enough, there’s also Dee Snider, a major caper, and a tango lesson/alien fistfight with the best use of cross-cutting since the baptism scene in The Godfather.

As Walker says proudly, “It’s a labor of love.”

Really, what more could anyone want from a movie?

The History of Future Folk plays at the Rio Grind Film Festival, on Friday (November 2)

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