As lovers of the strange and mystical, Kentucky for Kentucky is getting pumped to revel in the glory of Harry Dean Stanton, a man known for his long, versatile acting career, musical abilities, and status as a kick-ass Kentuckian.
June 13th – 15th marks the fourth annual Harry Dean Stanton Fest, a celebration started by Lucy Jones of the Lexington Film League and put on in conjunction with KET, The Kentucky Theater, and the Lexington Public Library. As one of the leaders of the Lexington Film League, Jones works with Sarah Wylie Van Meter to promote filmmaking and film spectatorship in our community through ongoing events, of which the Harry Dean Stanton Fest has proven to be extremely popular.
She says, "The wonderful thing about recruiting guests for the festival is that Harry is just so darn lovable that everyone who has ever met him wants to do whatever they can to celebrate him! It's the world's easiest sell."
We recently sat down with Jones to discuss the evolution of the Festival, her love of Harry Dean, and some of the best cinematic indulgences of the Bluegrass. For the first ever Harry Dean Stanton Fest, in 2011, Jones tracked down Hunter Carson (PARIS, TEXAS) on Facebook, invited him as the guest of honor, and lodged the actor at her parents' house. This year, Michelle Phillips and Harry Dean himself will be in attendance for the Festival, and will perform a Q&A Session after the 7pm showing of DILLINGER at the Kentucky Theater. This will be a homecoming of sorts for Stanton, who spent the majority of his formative years in Lexington; he's ready toast the Bluegrass along with the best of us.
When Jones learned of Harry Dean's Commonwealth roots, she states, "I immediately felt a kinship and wanted all Lexingtonians to be as excited about this fact as I was. That continues to be my goal."
Jones revealed that her interest in Harry Dean was piqued with an early viewing of REPO MAN, and, as she explains, "I immediately wanted to know everything there was to know about this actor." As a child, Jones attended the James Dean Festival every year beginning when she was 12 years old, which is where her idea for throwing a huge party to commemorate her favorite actor: "When I discovered that Harry Dean Stanton was from Kentucky, my first reaction was that this was a fact to be shared and celebrated. It just took around 20 years for the idea to percolate."
When the Lexington Film League invited Jones on board, she immediately knew what type of event she wanted to throw. During the first year, "Originally, I thought that it would be a stand-alone event. But, as things began to come together, I realized how much interest and excitement there was in the idea. Harry Dean deserves to be honored regularly and ceaselessly!"
Jones secured a partnership with KET for the first Harry Dean Stanton Fest and soon learned that Tom Thurman was in the process of finishing his Harry Dean documentary, CROSSING MULHOLLAND, and the film premier coincided with the opening of the first Festival. As Jones attests, "There has been a string of those sort of coincidences that have allowed the festival to grow at the rate that it has. I affectionately call it 'the magic of Harry Dean.'" In 2013, the Festival was graced with another documentary, Sophie Huber's HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION, and held the third public screening of that film in the entire world. The personal nature of that film gave additional insight into Stanton as a complex man; "It made the festival less about who Harry is as an actor and made it more about who he is as a person. That meant everything to me."
The Lexington Film League is grateful to all of the sponsorships they've received for the Festival, including funds they've raised via an Indiegogo campaign and a fundraising reception. When gathering momentum for each year's Harry Dean Stanton Festival, Jones channels the philosophy of the man himself: "If I have learned anything about this particular festival it's that you can always expect the unexpected. Harry is a tremendous advocate of the philosophy of Tony Parsons and the idea that 'it is as it is.' In many ways, that's how I see Harry's festival. It has grown organically and almost independently. I'm just excited to watch it unfold!"
Of this year's Festival, Jones continues, "My only goal for this year is that, as Harry stands on stage at the Kentucky Theatre, he looks at a packed house of friends, family, and supporters. This is a homecoming for him, and I want him to see how loved and remembered he is by the entire Commonwealth. I want him to know that we're proud of him."
Jones knows that the unique qualities of the home state she and Harry Dean share make the success of this Festival possible, especially when it comes to building a community around a special event and one of the many sources of Commonwealth pride: "There is so much about Kentucky that makes it special, but the people here are what make it truly unforgettable. I love that this is the state that bore two of my favorite actors of all time: Harry Dean Stanton and Warren Oates. And I love that you can have a half-formulated idea to honor one of those men and the next thing you know the community rallies behind you to such an extent that it's a full-blown festival getting national attention."
Speaking of national attention, we're thrilled to announce that Jones and the Harry Dean Stanton Festival were featured in USA Today last week. We can't wait to welcome the world to the Harry Dean Festival this year. Cheers, Kentucky!