One of the films at the Austin Revolution Film Festival (ARFF), September 19-23, which impressed me the most was Looking for the Jackalope. Judges at ARFF agreed. Looking for the Jackalope captured the Best Feature Comedy Award. It is an amazing first feature from writer/director Karl Shefelman. I’m sure it won’t be his last.
Besties with a Jackalope
Living in the past is not a good idea, especially if your best friend is a Jackalope. (A jackalope is part jack rabbit, but with the horns of an antelope and the ability to speak. They inhabit the American Southwest.) That is Jordan Sterling’s problem.
We meet Jordan, played by Michael Leydon Campbell (Sidewalks of New York, This is NOT a Film), as he is hitchhiking through Pennsylvania on his way to Ohio. The film then takes us back in time to understand how he got there, proceeds back to the hitchhiking, then carries the story forward.
Jordan, a New York based novelist, is in a slump creatively and in his personal life. Even his agent is considering dumping him. Everything used to be better in his life and he has a Jackalope on his wall to remind him of the good old days, in particular of his college flame Jennifer, played by Meissa Hampton.
Everything starts to change for Jordan when he receives a phone call from Jennifer. She is working on their college 20th reunion committee and is checking to see if he is coming. This brief encounter with a voice from the past starts him on the trip back to Ohio and through all his old memories. He is assisted on this odyssey by the one college buddy he is still in touch with, played by Larry Clarke (Twin Peaks (2017), Law & Order) and the Jackalope (voiced by Stephen Root, whom you may have heard on one of 256 episodes of King of the Hill). Is the Jackalope really talking or is it all in Jordan’s head? You’ll have to see this film, and you should, to find out.
An Artful Film
Looking for the Jackalope is funny, charming, and, if you’ve ever longed for the good old days, it will touch you deeply. At the end of it, I found myself questioning my own talents as a screenwriter. It’s my goal to write something this good someday.
It is also beautifully filmed. I particularly liked the sequences when Jordan remembers his cross-country trip with Jennifer and the screen goes to a hazy, 8MM look.
Although this is writer/director Shefelman’s first feature work, he has been working in film on the art department side since 1989, creating story boards for literally scores of films. Maybe this is how he developed such a good sense of story.
Ironically, a film about going back to your past was for Shefelman a case of art imitating life. Shefelman is a native of Austin, but has been living in New York for over a decade. Word got out on Facebook that his film was part of ARFF and the audience at the screening was filled with people from his high school that he hadn’t seen in twenty years. I sat next to and shared a pizza with an old friend of Shefelman’s father, to whom the film is dedicated. I heard some good stories, but I’m sworn to secrecy.