DIFFERENT DRUM (2014) AND LUCKY (2014)

Two 2014 independent films. Lucky is available for viewing in its entirety below.

I could not help but think of something the Dali Lama recently said as I watched Kevin L. Chenault’s Different Drum (2014): “The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kind.”

Chenault is a storyteller who engages us with a slice of life involving Tod (Zach Zint), an unemployed, flat-broke musician, and his pregnant ex-girlfriend Lydia (Isabella DeVoy). Chenault’s story is not about successful people. It is a story about storytellers and lovers. Tod and Lydia are not lovers per se, at least, not in the reductionist way we tend to superficially understand the term. Tod is trying to sell his comic book collection. Alas, it turns out they are not worth anything. Lydia almost gets her eye poked out via a stupid accident with a tree branch because, yes, we have stupid accidents. She’s pregnant, too. No explanation required. She remains pregnant and keeps her eye patch, as she should. We do not always need conclusions and often, as is the case here, a summary would have diminished this story and rendered it vapid.

Tod and Lydia are on a road trip from South Dakota to Indiana to attend a family wedding. The journey zigzags, seemingly aimlessly, the way our stories sometimes do, with a little petty larceny along the way (minus judgmental baggage). George Romero’s once horrific Night of the Living Dead (1968) plays as motel background fodder, now as innocuous as a sing-along to Tears for Fears.

Somewhere along the road, our two lovers are going to find something amidst Elvis impersonators and cordial muggers, authentic eccentrics who never strain to be sure we’re aware of their eccentricities. What Tod and Lydia find is not going to be defined for us, or for them, because things are rarely defined. Yet, we sense an inexplicable purpose to this promenade.

Contemporary independent films, by and large, have ceased to be authentically independent: instead of offering an emotionally alternative aesthetic experience, the usual route they take is to imitate Hollywood, on a much smaller scale. Naturally, that defeats the purpose of independent film, which is what makes Chenault’s film refreshing. He is telling his own story, his own way, with the help of two very good, understated first time actors, and lucid cinematography by Eddy Scully. We are drawn into a sensuous, humanistic road trip, for no apparent reason other than our desperate need for more stories like this.

 is working on his next feature film, Three Tears On Bloodstained Flesh. Taking an eight hour break from that project, Bilinski participated in an event from the Owensboro, Ky film series, “Unscripted: An Indie Film Xperience.” Two scripts were chosen from a screenplay contest. One of the winning scripts, Lucky, written by Todd Martin, and handed to Bilinski, who shot the eight minute film in eight hours on the same library floor where the film series was screened. With less than a day to film and only two cast members, Bilinski described the experience as “a hectic, fun, run-and-gun shoot.”

This horror short opens with Louisa Torres engaged in studious research when she’s rudely interrupted by Dillon Schueller. Rather than create another monotonous imitation, Lucky pays homage to a genre without succumbing to sloppy fandom. It takes shrewd and artful self-confidence to know the difference between the two; fortunately, Bilinski does, and he is helped considerably by Torres comfortably eating up the scenery in an energetic role. A strong female protagonist has been a consistent Bilinski trademark and Schueller, while serviceable, does not stand a comparative chance in or out of character against this lady.

Bilinski is a one of the more talented directors in the current indie crop and he doesn’t disappoint. As expected, he pulls Lucky off with an astute sense of composition and a devotion to craftsmanship. The high point of the film is Bilinski’s small nod to John Landis’ famous “Thriller” video, with Torres nailing the choreography (without advertising that she is doing so). Bilinski balances his blue-collar approach to filmmaking with intelligence and professionalism, regardless of constraints and budget limitations. While there may be a plethora of blue-collar filmmakers in the independent scene, all too often that approach can (and usually does) short shrift perceptive aesthetics. Such is not the case with Chenault or Bilinski, and that is doubly refreshing.

Three Tears On Bloodstained Flesh will be covered on this site at a later date. 

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