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The Kook

A darkly comic take on rural cults wins top honors at the LES Film Festival

by Ami Kealoha in Culture on 16 March 2012

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If you think "new noir" sounds like the latest buzzword designed to put Lana del Rey on the map, check out "The Kook." The short, made by two NYC directors known as Peking (full disclosure: also frequent Cool Hunting collaborators), won the Audience Award after a sold-out screening held by the LES Film Festival last night. The moment helps shed some light on why the shadowy genre continues to feel so relevant.

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In just its second year, the festival celebrates projects made for $200,000 or less. In many cases, much less. Co-founder Shannon Walker explains this "special time" for filmmaking as one when "you can tell a great story for not a lot of money", citing a film shot entirely on a Nokia phone.

But, Walker emphasizes, the focus is on great storytelling. The selection process comes down to whether committee members "audibly have a reaction to it," as Tony Castle (part of the fest's creative team) puts it. The Kook, the story of a cult of people who wear yellow sweatsuits and rock bowl cuts, inspired plenty of noisy reactions among the audience.

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The film follows Fa, the naive protagonist and enthusiastic cult member played by T Sahara Meer, on her journey for the truth after finding evidence that the operation is a ruse. She stumbles upon the leader, Malcolm (played by Dan Burkarth), a lowlife who is suffering some unknown pressure that leads him to manipulate his followers. In the process of Fa's discovery, we see her pull back the curtain, revealing an unsettling truth and in turn finding unknown strength within.

Art direction, consisting of thrifted costumes and borrowed locations, makes one of the strongest cases for low-budget filmmaking by creating a complete off-kilter world. Even something as incongruous as an '80s-era control panel embedded in a tree is believable.

The finely-crafted piece springs to life through gorgeous noir lighting and subtle cinematography, made all the more compelling with precise editing and rich sound design. Under the helm of the skilled directors, the excellent performances help cement a cohesive tone.

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The team, comprised of Nat Livingston-Johnson and Greg Mitnick, have a background in music videos, documentary (see Cool Hunting Video) and commercial work, but it's The Kook that truly showcases their talent for dark comedy. They've already earned rave reviews and awards at independent film festivals coast to coast, and we're looking forward to more success for the film and the filmmakers.

To see more, watch the trailer for The Kook.

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