Austin, Texas' Scottish Rite Theater was the perfect venue for the premiere of "The Lonely Life," Mike Aho's debut short film starring musician and actor Will Oldham. The grandfather clocks and polished leather couches of the Masonic landmark lent themselves nicely to the night, kicked off by David Lowery's emotional short, "Pioneer," which also stars Oldham. We all felt a bit suspended in time.
Thursday's nearly full house took in the film, which follows David Whitworth, played by Oldham, a "patient" at New Light Laboratory in the year 2015. He discovers he was cryogenically frozen, his former life a question mark; heavy doses of medication cause him to suffer hallucinations, which are colorfully animated by Austin artists Michael Sieben (well known in the skate community and recently tapped to illustrate a re-issue of "The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz"), Travis Millard and Jeremy Fish.
Aho says he had Oldham in mind for the character of David; Oldham had played a recurring character on a web series called "Internet Shack," which Aho created with Roger Skateboards cofounder/Okay Mountain artist Sieben for Thrasher magazine a couple years ago.
"We co-wrote and starred in it," Sieben explains. "I'm using the word 'starred' very loosely here."
Both Aho and Sieben have done work for Thrasher and Volcom and are heavily ingrained in skate culture. "The Lonely Life"'s orange BMX bike, which is featured on the film's poster and is a recurring image throughout the short, is another subtle nod to that scene. The pair currently share a studio space at Okay Mountain, so being each other's think tank is easy.
"In some ways a lot of the scenes were born from visions of these animations," Aho says. "I didn't know how they would fit into the story exactly, but I knew I wanted them in there. So, in many ways, the animations informed the entire story."
"I also didn't want the film to be a sci-fi film," he adds. "So I thought making David's hallucinations feel a bit playful and childish would make the whole experience more surreal. I think that, combined with the music, makes what could otherwise be a haunting sci-fi movie a little more interesting."
They shot for three days in Bastrop and West Austin, Texas, and the scenery shows Austin in full late-spring bloom -- an interesting contrast with the film's theme of loneliness. "The whole crew, including myself, slept in the hotel room that was the set," Aho says, "and we couldn't run the AC because of sound while shooting 12-hour days. It was late May and about 100 degrees. That part was brutal, but I think it helped the way the film looks and feels."
The Q&A with Aho that followed the screening touched on what being an independent filmmaker means in 2013, and producer Morgan Coy emphasized how there's no money in it. Aho explained how fundraising website Kickstarter played a role in financing and finishing "The Lonely Life," an increasingly popular way for filmmakers to present projects that might otherwise have languished in obscurity.
Later, at local watering hole Mohawk, Aho's band ((sounder)) performed tracks from their upcoming album, "The Howlingest Call," including "The Lonely Life"'s lovely, sing-song title track. [((sounder)) also recently contributed songs to a new book/seven-inch record set, "It Rained All Day," with illustrations by Mel Kadel.] Synth-heavy trio Troller and guitar-drum duo Gal Pals book-ended ((sounder)), and Oldham was the night's DJ. While his set wasn't especially cohesive -- veering from heavy psych to experimental folk -- it also reflected the film's wandering soundtrack. Oldham joined ((sounder)) on stage for one song, acoustic guitar in hand, and we were no longer suspended in time.