A YEAR WITHOUT RENT IN PARK CITY: JAMES STENSON’S “KELLY”
23 January; 1:13am
Probably the best thing I saw all day was a missed FG.
Being from Maine means you’re pretty much going to be a fan of the Patriots, even though they were terrible for my entire childhood. The first thing I put on my schedule was the AFC Championship game and as soon as my first screening ended, I made it goal number 1 to find a TV. Luckily the Carhartt Lounge had TVs running, and chili, and a bar serving bloody mary’s.
Apparently it was a Slamdance/Carhartt staff party, but if you show up before they start checking IDs, you can talk your way into some free drinks. Eventually, I think they gave up, as I ended up watching the game with a bunch of filmmakers from Austin, including Jonny Mars, the second lead in the last film I directed. I had no idea he was even in town.
The first film I saw today was the morning screening of James Stenson’s Kelly, a documentary portrait of transvestite Kelly Van Ryan, a girl who moved to LA from North Carolina to become a star. Of course, she didn’t, instead turning to prostitution and meth.
Kelly is a complicated portrait. The filmmakers clearly have a great affection for her, and she’s a compelling character, prone to rants and exclamations like, “Recession? How does the whole world run out of money?”
She’s full of delusions and contradictions, imagining herself as a star, despite all evidence to the contrary. She gets in a fight with her landlord, claiming she has the money for rent and promising to go down to the office and kick some ass. Of course, she doesn’t and soon after she’s been evicted and is living in a hotel.
Her claims fall away when she goes home to North Carolina and the filmmakers are confronted with a mother and a home life that’s wildly different from Kelly’s descriptions. Her mother refutes Kelly left and right, but the only thing that’s clear is that neither of these people are reliable narrators.
So where exactly is the truth? Well, it’s in the Q&A.
Here’s where the Q&A actually works against the film, as Stenson and company, while compelling in their own right, paint a different picture of Kelly than the one in the film. It’s a more interesting picture. It makes you wonder why it isn’t in the film. To speculate, it seems like their affection for their subject matter has neutered their film. Kelly is currently 2 months sober, and Stenson mentions several times his worry that her viewing of the film could push her back into drugs. Such is the hazard inherent in this type of documentary film.
Or maybe it’s just the hazard inherent in a festival Q&A.
Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.