From its inception, the Harry Dean Stanton Fest has experienced uncanny coincidences, like the way the first edition in 2011 coincided with the premiere of a KET documentary about the Kentucky born-and-raised actor.
This year’s edition, Thursday through Saturday, is met with the latest and undoubtedly saddest coincidence: Just under two weeks from opening night, Stanton died at the age of 91.
“This year won’t be just a celebration of his work, it will be a celebration of his life,” festival founder and director Lucy Jones said Thursday afternoon.
“It’s funny, because a lot of people have reached out to me and asked if we were even going to do the festival, or if we are going to change it any way, and that’s sort of surprising to me, because it feels more important to do it now that ever.
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“Again, there seems to be this guiding force that I call ‘the magic of Harry Dean,’ because I don’t know what else to call it, that has informed a lot of decisions and how the festival has come together in the past, that I think is at work again.”
In all but its first year, the festival has been an early summer affair. This year, it was pushed back for an auspicious occasion: the world premiere of what will now be one of Stanton’s final films, and only the second starring role for the revered character actor.
“Lucky,” pretty much everyone involved in the film says, is essentially the story of Stanton, portrayed as a man living in a desert community who contemplates his mortality after a fall in his kitchen. The cast includes some of Stanton’s longtime friends such as David Lynch and Ed Begley Jr. Magnolia Pictures, which is distributing the movie, contacted Jones and asked if she wanted to premiere it at the festival.
“I can’t imagine a greater tribute,” Jones says of premiering the movie. “It was written by his assistant (Logan Sparks), and if you’ve seen the trailer, you know a lot of that dialogue was taken right out of Harry Dean’s mouth.”
Variety film critic Joe Leydon wrote in a review last week: “Everything Harry Dean Stanton has done in his career, and his life, has brought him to his moment of triumph in ‘Lucky,’ an unassumingly wonderful little film about nothing in particular and everything that’s important.”
The Thursday night premiere at the Kentucky Theatre will be attended by director John Carroll Lynch and co-writer Drago Sumonja, and they will participate in a question-and-answer session following the movie.
But that is not the only coincidence on the schedule for the three day festival. The second film, showing Friday afternoon at the Kentucky, will be Stanton’s other star turn, “Paris, Texas” (1984), and Saturday’s lineup includes “Fool For Love” (1985), written by and starring another recently deceased Kentucky star: Sam Shepard.
Saturday evening will be the unveiling of new Harry Dean Stanton mural by Graham Allen at the Kentucky Fun Mall, followed by an outdoor showing of “The Straight Story,” David Lynch’s film about a man (Oscar nominee Richard Farnsworth) who drives his lawn mower from Iowa to Wisconsin to make amends with his brother (Stanton) who just suffered a stroke.
“If you’ve seen the movie, you know that the last three-to-five minutes are all Harry,” Jones says of the fest finale. “It ends with this very close-up shot, just his face with tears in his eyes as he looks up to the heavens, and it tilts up and you see the stars, and we’ll be under the stars. I literally can’t imagine that if we had the foresight to plan it that we could have planned it any better.”
If you go
Harry Dean Stanton Fest
Thursday: Red carpet premiere of “Lucky” at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main St., followed by Q&A with director John Carroll Lynch and writer Drago Sumonja. 7 p.m. $25, after-party at The Bar complex.
Friday: “Paris, Texas” screening, Kentucky Theatre. 1 p.m. $6.
▪ “The Green Mile” screening, Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third St. $6.
▪ John Doe in concert, The Green Lantern Bar, W. Third St. $12 advance, $15 at the door.
Saturday: “Fool for Love” screening, Central Library Farish Theatre, 140 E. Main St. 1 p.m. Free.
▪ “Slam Dance” screening, followed by Q&A with musician and actor John Doe. 3 p.m. Farish Theatre. Free.
▪ “The Straight Story” screening at Kentucky Fun Mall, 720 Bryan Ave. Includes mural unveiling. 7 p.m., film at dusk. Free.