An actor or actress has to check off more than a few boxes to warrant an entire annual film festival devoted to his or her work. When it comes to Kentucky-born actor Harry Dean Stanton, he's had incredible success (check), a wide-ranging career (check) and an unfathomably long filmography of more than 200 films (check).
But Lucy Jones, founder of the Harry Dean Stanton Fest, says the 88-year-old actor and musician also possesses a few intangibles that make him a unique and captivating presence anytime he's on screen.
"I guess for me, the thing that stands out ... about Harry Dean is he's kind of the perfect combination of vulnerable and cool," Jones says. "I think that is the mark of all the really iconic actors."
Since 2011, the goal of the Harry Dean Stanton Fest has been to honor one of the Bluegrass State's most accomplished living actors by showcasing his films in downtown Lexington venues while bringing in special guests who have worked alongside Stanton to provide inside stories and personal insight into what makes Stanton such a singular talent. In its fifth year, the Harry Dean Stanton Fest will provide a similar experience this weekend while also showcasing new events to hopefully bring in an even larger audience to appreciate Stanton's impact on film.
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Jones says the selection process for the festival's films often depends on its featured guest each year. This year, festival attendees will get the chance to screen several Stanton films from director and producer Monte Hellman. Hellman directed a wide variety of low-budget films in the 1960s and '70s, working on multiple film projects with actor Jack Nicholson. He continued directing later in his career and was the executive producer to protégé Quentin Tarantino on his 1992 directorial debut Reservoir Dogs.
Three Stanton-Hellman collaborations will be showcased at this year's festival: The 1966 western Ride In The Whirlwind, the cult classic 1971 road movie Two-Lane Blacktop and 1974's The Cockfighter. The screening of Ride In The Whirlwind Sunday will feature an audience question and answer session with Hellman moderated by former Boston Globe film critic Michael Blowen.
"Monte Hellman has been on a very short list for a very long time," Jones says about getting Hellman to come to speak at the festival. "While he's not a household name, he is incredibly well-respected in the film industry and particularly overseas. He truly is an architect of modern independent cinema."
Festival organizers said the structure of the film festival will be similar to previous years while simultaneously adding new events. One of those events is how the Hellman film Two-Lane Blacktop will actually be presented, moving it out of a traditional theater setting and setting a make-shift drive-in at The Pepper Distillery's parking lot, complete with a car-show and food trucks.
"Since it is one of the iconic road movies, it seems like it's a perfect fit to be a drive-in film," Jones says.
There will also be a family-friendly Stanton offering this year for the first time, in what Jones hopes will be chance to "indoctrinate these kids young" to Stanton's work. The screening will be of the 2011 animated film Rango starring another Kentuckian, Owensboro's Johnny Depp (Stanton voiced the character of Balthazar, the mole who leads a band of bank robbers).
In addition to what's on screen, what's on the walls of the Kentucky Theatre's State Theater Gallery this past month has also paid tribute to the work of Stanton and Hellman. The Velveteria: Museum of Velvet Paintings, based in Los Angeles, has commissioned several pieces related to Stanton and Hellman's work and features some of the top velvet artists from across the country.
"I think most people associate velvet art with kitsch...it's actually so amazingly skill-based and it's a folk art and it has a very storied past," Jones says.
While the fifth incarnation of the Harry Dean Stanton Fest may have some new features, it will once again feature something that's been there since the beginning: Live music. After a screening of the 1992 David Lynch film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me Saturday evening, there will be a Twin Peaks Homecoming Dance at the Green Lantern Bar. Costumes and formal wear are encouraged and there will be music provided by Palisades and other Lexington musicians.
Jones said this event not only serves as a change of pace and a chance to socialize after a day of film screenings; it also honors Stanton's other true passion as a singer and guitar player, which speaks to his legacy as an endlessly creative spirit.
"Harry Dean has always said that one of his great loves next to acting is music," she says. "He wasn't sure if he wanted to be an actor or a musician, so he ultimately became both."