The three-day celebration of western movies kicks off May 27 with The Last Manhunt starring Martin Sensmeier and Mainei Kinimaka.
On Memorial Day weekend, the folks organizing the inaugural Pioneertown International Film Festival plan to give western fans an experience to remember.
Consider: In the California community where countless TV and movie westerns were filmed throughout the 1940s and ‘50s, festivalgoers will be able to sample from a cinematic smorgasbord that includes, among many other attractive offerings, the premiere of actor-filmmaker Christian Camargo’s The Last Manhunt, a revisionist take on the same historical events that inspired the 1969 western Tell Them Willie Boy is Here, co-starring and co-written by Jason Mamoa. C&I reader favorite Martin Sensmeier stars as Willie Boy, a long-distance desert runner from the Chemehuevi tribe who, in 1909, must flee into the Mojave Desert with his young lover Carlotta (Mainei Kinimaka) after accidentally killing Carlotta’s father, William Johnson (Zahn McClarnon), a Chemehuevi shaman and tribal leader.
But wait, there’s more. A lot more.
Also included in the May 27-29 Pioneertown International Film Festival lineup: Roman Perfilyev’s The Inglorious Serfs, a Ukraine-produced, Spaghetti Western-style action-adventure that reimagines Ukrainian literary great Taras Shevchenko as a gun-slinging, sword-wielding badass who bonds with a wayward samurai to battle bad guys; The Taking, a new documentary from director Alexandre O. Philippe (The People vs. George Lucas) that examines how Monument Valley, a location on sovereign Navajo land, has been appropriated by John Ford and others for western movie mythologizing; Tim Kirk’s The Mystery of Durango!, a documentary about the amazingly long series of B-movies about the exploits of the heroic Durango Kid that were churned out during the 1940s and ’50s; live performances by The Sons of the Pioneers and The Dandy Warhols; and revival screenings of such movies as Buck and the Preacher, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, and Monte Hellman’s The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind.
Director Roman Perfilyev will be on hand to present his Inglorious Serfs at the Pioneertown International Film Festival.
We recently spoke with Julian T. Pinder, founder of the Pioneertown International Film Festival, about his upcoming event. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Cowboys & Indians: To begin with the obvious question: What inspired you to launch the Pioneertown International Film Festival?
Julian T. Pinder: Good question. I’ve been down here for maybe 11 or 12 years now, I guess. When I first came here, it was a bit more of a ghost down than it is today. But it’s become pretty popular. I moved out here because I really fell in love with this area, the high desert, and the history of Pioneertown. I’m sure you and your readers might know a little bit about it, but it was basically a town that was built in the ‘40s by Roy Rogers and a consortium of his folks. It was used as the backdrop for many hundreds of westerns and Gene Autry’s shows and the Annie Oakley TV series, and a lot of Roy Rogers productions. So it’s got a really amazing history. Even though it’s not an actual western history, it’s an interesting history that really helped to kind of develop the western culture in film.
C&I: Close enough.
Julian: True. Anyway, I really, really love this area and the history of it and the films that were made here. It’s a great town. And when I moved here, I thought, “Man, this place should really have its own little film festival that celebrates what this little tiny town in the middle of relatively nowhere has done for the cultural history of the western genre.” So about five years ago, I finally said, “You know what? It’s starting to get a little more populated, and a little more trendy out here. I certainly don’t want someone coming in and doing the wrong thing and making some sort of a festival that’s just some sort of promoter type event or whatever kind of stuff they do these days.” So I got together with a few friends who live locally, and a bunch of other folks from the community, and we decided that we should put on this film festival. That’s the long and short of it.
C&I: You’ve got quite a lineup. Everything from a Ukranian-produced drama with a Spaghetti Western flavor to a revisionist version of the same real-life events that inspired the 1969 movie Tell Them Willie Boy is Here to a documentary about how Monument Valley became an iconic image for cowboy movies. How did you go about the programming?
Julian: In the very beginning, the concept was, this is going to be very much a western-oriented film festival. We didn’t want to be just a carbon copy of every other film festival that’s popped up around the country in the last however many years, because there’s a lot of them. We wanted to really focus on the western and the history of this town. So those of us who started the festival sat down with our amazing programmer, Todd Luoto, who’s done some programming at Sundance and other places. He’s an enormous western fan as well.
We had no idea if we could actually have a viable western-only film festival. We didn’t know if there were enough westerns being made every year, if there were enough new ones, if there was enough interest, if people gave a damn, all these things. So we really started to break down what a western was, which was actually a really interesting exercise for a filmmaker. We came up with all kinds of different ideas and approaches and stuff. But basically what the qualification for selection boiled down to was this: Is the film either a traditional classic style western, or is the film something that sits within the western genre from the way it’s made and the story it tells?
C&I: And you went on from there?
Pinder: Correct. Todd Luoto spent almost two years digging down every rabbit hole and calling every associate at different festivals, everywhere from Cannes to Sundance to Telluride to Toronto to different festivals around the world. And he was able to dig up some amazing titles. Things like The Last Manhunt, which is, like you said, kind of a retelling of the Willie Boy story. Very much a traditional Western with a different approach, from a bit more of an Indigenous perspective. And The Inglorious Serfs, a Ukrainian film that’s kind of a quasi-western. The Paramount Pictures archive and restoration department is coming out to give a talk on how they restore these amazing old films. And they’re bringing out a couple films to show that they’ve restored recently. They haven’t announced the titles yet, but they’re going to be classic westerns.
C&I: And there will be other retrospective screenings as well?
Pinder: Oh, yes. For example, we’re having a tribute to director Monte Hellman with two of his cult-favorite 1960s westerns, The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind — both of which star Jack Nicholson, and were produced by Roger Corman.
C&I: Sound great. Especially since there are a lot of western fans — including yours truly — who have never seen any of those films on a big screen. Even though we’ve talked with both Warren Oates and Will Hutchins about their roles in The Shooting over the years.
Pinder: Oh man, those films are fantastic. I’m good friends with Monte Hellman’s daughter, Melissa, who’s a director in her own right. I’m also quite good friends with Jennifer Nicholson, who's Jack’s daughter. They both live out in the area, near Pioneertown, and they’ll be here to present these films on behalf of their fathers. Unfortunately, Monte passed away last year during COVID. He was actually going to come up and present these films himself, which would’ve been spectacular. Obviously that’s just the reality of life.
But what’s really cool about The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind is, not too long before he passed away, Monte completed a quite rigorous restoration of both films through the Criterion Collection. So Criterion fairly recently released these superbly restored versions of the films. One of the hardest things about watching them in the past was that the versions available online and on DVD were really, really terrible. The quality was horrible, and it was a little bit hard to watch them. So to be able to play those from the fairly recently restored Criterion Collection files on the big screen in our theaters is going to be fantastic. I would venture to say that these might not have been seen in this kind of glory since their initial screenings on 35mm back in the 60s.
C&I: Finally, what would you say might be the biggest surprise — maybe a sleeper hit — in store for festivalgoers?
Pinder: That’s a very, very good question. I’m thinking The Inglorious Serfs. I don’t think it’s a film that people are expecting. And it’s so cool — like a strange Eastern European sort of Tarantino. Yeah, I don’t know how else to describe it. But I think that it’s going to be a real crowd-pleaser. And also, obviously, it's going to be great that, even with the war going on in Ukraine, the director, Roman Perfilyev, is going to be here.
Pinder: Yeah. Again, that is one of those strange things that happen just because they do. At first, he wasn’t going to be able to attend the festival with his film. And then, when things got bad in Ukraine, he and his family actually came to the States for safety not too long ago. So then when he was situated in the States, he got ahold of us and said, “Hey, I'm in the country now. Would you still like me to attend the festival, for the screening?" And we said, “Yeah, of course. We'd love to have you.” So he's coming in, totally serendipitously, because of the war. It’s one of those strange things that you have mixed feelings about — but we’re happy he can be here.
You can purchase tickets to the May 27-29 Pioneertown International Film Festival here.