A new feature film is poised to shake up the cinematic landscape of Cleveland cinema. Hey Old Man, written by Perry Barbarino and directed by Cleveland, Ohio based filmmaker Keitj T. Alin, stands as the feature debut from Keitj. In my interview with Keitj Alin he announced the news here first of this next endeavor and expressed his excitement about his transition from short films like his acclaimed A Barge And Its Wind with his first feature length film. That film is Hey Old Man, an unrated 66 minutes of supernatural surrealism poised to make its Cleveland premiere February 27th, at the Capitol Theater.
The film centers around Yesmo Grenade, by all appearances a homeless derelict living on the fringe of society back-dropped against the urban landscape of Cleveland, Ohio. Yesmo bides his time with awkward social interactions between businessmen and young punks that roam his city streets. He offers a voice of social consciousness that is almost purely indecipherable further compounding his social alienation. He’s a street preacher of the occult with no congregation. Rallying against technology and the socially reinforced perceptions that prevent us from questioning our realities, one would almost feel pity for this vagrant, if he wasn’t more GG Allin than Boxcar Willie.
As the film continues you trip into a world of subverted counter-culture. Scraped and wounded, you’re left to fend for yourself in regards to finding understanding, a weary passenger along for the ride with Yesmo as he attempts to discern his next move through his deck of tarot cards. This world of food foraging and degradation isn’t uncommon, it’s the very existence that many citizens we choose to see as invisible inhabit everyday. Barbarino’s writing digs a tunnel into an underground lifestyle many wish to ignore. Layered upon this forgotten existence is the true nature of Yesmo. It seems he’s almost 200 years old, a conduit to a forgotten time of social clarity. The rituals and spirituality that guide Yesmo have all been forgotten by the society that is now disgusted by him. A guru without a mountaintop, these ancient secrets of universal understanding fall on deaf ears and Yesmo must contend with hunger, the elements and where to get another smoke. This character study offers an almost socio-political commentary on the state of the disenfranchised, especially withjuxtaposed against the Starbucks sipping corporate lackeys that ignore our anti-hero or the smart ass twenty something set raised with no true sense of compassion. Both sets of these demographics offer a harrowing reflection of one another; that a position of such devastating economic outcome is unimaginable to themselves. Why would anyone choose to be a bum? It’s this fragmented perception that decision could possibly have defiance over circumstance that expounds the entire scenario into another segment briefly investigated in this film. Are we caught up in a dream, is Yesmo, or is all of civilization asleep at the wheel and is there any redemption for any of us?
Keitj Alin’s work is a surrealistic expression of his environment. When escape isn’t an option from one’s surroundings, a retreat is made into one’s mind for protection. Here a cerebral misadventure is endured like a hailstorm. The film is a force of nature that leaves a mark for those without protection. The future and the present are as murky as the past in any semblance of understanding, especially when used to explore a standard narrative. It’s this toying with an audience’s perception that many may find too cerebral, but this is not done by accident. The concise camerawork, editing, and lighting suggest that this would be a much larger head trip if Alin had a larger budget. Personally I am intrigued and almost perplexed at what he could accomplish thanks to investors with deeper pockets. The challenge of the script may overextend its reach at times, but it’s not for a lack of trying. The cast does a commendable job, but I would be most interested in Keitj’s next effort with more seasoned veterans of stage and screen at the helm. Ultimately, we are offered a voyeuristic look into the underbelly of a city divided. We are placed in a role meant to witness the injustices and psychological torment of those deemed unworthy of our social recognition. The added element of the supernatural ripples the water enough to ensure we’re aware we’re not alone. Alin makes good use of his limited budget and his attention to detail resonates throughout like a watchmaker that has forgotten the time, where the content is more emphasized than the message. It’s David Lynch on Twitter, it’s David Cronenberg in a text message, it’s a digitized archetype that draws as much inspiration as confusion for all those that seek to understand.
One intriguing element to understanding Hey Old Man is that the film was lensed entirely in downtown Cleveland. It’s this setting of industrialization that offers a refreshing look into independent film making. An resilient spirit resonates within the confines of these films waiting to be noticed and I dare say that it wouldn’t be the same in any other location. Surrounded by steel and concrete, it’s an inquisitive eye that will find the tenderness within and more than likely not know what to do with it when they do. Marginalized, discounted, and left to fend for themselves, Yesmo is the current embodiment of the Buckeye State. This isn’t simple B-movie film making to be pigeon holed, this is a stepping stone that one artist used to overcome the hurdles that would trip up most of his contemporaries. This is the kind of calling card that celebrates a simple principle of human understanding. Reality is only a shared collective of our experiences with and within society, civilized or not.
Hey Old Man premieres February 27th at 7pm. There will be a Q & A following the screening, as well as an after party for those that attend.