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by Mary Nyiri

John Carroll Lynch, USA

Ninety-year-old Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) lives by himself in an old wooden frame house located in a tiny town in the sunburnt Arizona desert. Lucky is set in his ways. He wakes to his alarm clock buzzing. He smokes. He does morning calisthenics in his underwear. He brews a cup of joe. He walks to the local for a few drinks. He is an opinionated, determined old man, who appears to be living alone and very much on his own. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Lucky gets a bit fuzzy in his head and falls over in the kitchen. He decides to see the doctor for a checkup. There the doctor tells him that he is indeed an old man, living longer than most, simply aging and that there is no reason for Lucky to stop smoking. In fact, stopping smoking might be worse for his health than continuing. There is no discernable medical ailment to explain his collapse. So Lucky continues his daily routine and when the people around town hear about his fall, Lucky learns just how lucky he really is.

Director John Carroll Lynch attended the screening at Passage Cinema where he answered questions from the audience, fighting with his emotions since Harry Dean Stanton had passed away just three weeks before on September 15, 2017, at the age of 91. Questioned about whether there was someone who inspired the film character Lucky, Lynch explained that it was all about Harry. The story was very much how Harry lived his life.

When asked about the diversity of the small town and how well everyone seemed to get along, Lynch said the story was written before the new president of the United States was determined, and is “grown out of American cinema and it reflects American culture and values.” Lynch further explained that Lucky thinks of himself as self-reliant but discovers he is not; he is dependent on everyone in that town and has been for years but just didn’t realize it. It was important that the town looked like the America that Lynch lives in, a small town that is filled with every kind of American not just Americans that look like him (Lynch). Latino influences were in the film from the beginning. Even though at present, Lynch says, “...there’s a lot of news about division, …about the way in which America looks right now, but most of the time that’s how people behave…they just live their lives together and they don’t really think too much about the divisions, they just… survive.”

The U.S. Consul General Richard Yoneoka and his wife Kathrin had the pleasure of meeting with Lynch while he was in Hamburg for the film festival and Lynch agreed to answer a few written questions from our journalists about his film which opened the festival:

1. Was Harry Dean Stanton terminally ill during filming or was he "just old" like the character he plays?

Answer: He was not terminally ill. He was 89. We finished a week before his 90th birthday. Nothing was “wrong.” He was simply old.

2. Where was the small town location?

Answer: Piru, CA, was where we shot but it was standing in for an Arizona town. The Saguaro cacti and the Sonoran desert tortoise were indicative of that as there is a small area of the southwest US where they are indigenous.

3. Was there a “Plan B” during filming just in case Stanton wasn't able to finish filming?

Answer: There was no plan b. Only insurance.

4. Does the director think the film would have been as effective if the location had been different, like in a small town in Iowa?

Answer: As the director, I think the story is universal enough to tell anywhere. But the specificity of the desert and its place as a metaphor of the fragility of life and the tenacity and vitality of life would be lost telling it someplace else. The desert is a harsh place that is filled with life and some of the oldest living things on earth. That’s why it was so resonant for this moment in Lucky’s life.

5. How is it that Stanton speaks (and sings) such good Spanish?

Answer: He was a devotee of mariachi for decades. He loved singing in Spanish. But as he says in the movie, and I translate, “my pronunciation is good, but my conversation is limited.” That was true of Lucky and Harry.