Hollywood-A good film is hard to come by these days. That’s never an issue with the annual American Film Institute’s showcase film festival. The AFI Fest 2016 begins the onslaught of movies, shorts and animation worthy to considered for awards and platitudes all the way up to the Academy Awards.
Josh Locy’s “Hunter Gatherer,” which screened at AFI Fest 2016,” might be a film getting a lot of attention during the winter awards sweep. That’s because Locy does an excellent job of incorporating the richness of the human spirit into this independent movie.
Locy manages to do this with a descriptive backdrop that is not atypical of movie filmed in urban communities such as South Los Angeles. For a first-time work, the “Hunter Gatherer” is not just a good film; it’s a great piece of movie-making.
And it starts with the leading role. Andre Royo hits it out of the park as the loathing, good-for-nothing, scheming Ashley, trying to rebuild his life from the tatters of street life that handed him three years behind bars. Once he gets out, Ashley finds out that those closest to him, his girlfriend and his neighborhood, have all moved on.
It is a plot that many people can identify with simply by knowing someone like Ashley. You’ve seen the story before: a hustler never stops hustling. That’s the cushioned world individuals like Ashley live in. It is an evolving door of always trying to outsmart everybody in the room and being slicker than a car salesman.
That’s Ashley. Everyone knows somebody like Ashley, whether it’s your brother, cousin, sister or best friend. They’re always trying to get over. No pitch, no idea, and no scheme is beneath them. They’re always trying to make a sell. There is no shame in their game.
Ashley (played with the truth by Royo), has a good heart. He is a decent man. He wants to do good. He means well. He just needs someone to believe in him, to give him an opportunity to help get his life in order.
Asley’s problem is that no one takes him seriously enough to take him at his word. You can’t con a con man and you sure as heck can’t get over on your mother. You can’t outwit people who are used to your usual delivery of faking the funk. Sooner or later, crying wolf will get you nowhere.
That’s the boat that Ashley finds himself in. His mother wants him to get it together so he can finally leave home for good. Linda, his girlfriend, has a new man. And when you leave the birdcage, it is rough sailing for ex-cons to get a job and get on their feet.
That’s doesn’t stop the hustle game for Ashley, who moves about in constant motion of schemes, ideas and how to get over. Ashley is in survival mode after he leaves jail. Frantic and acting like he’s on crack most of the time with his paranoia ways, Ashley bounces from his mother’s house to Linda’s place to see what he can get.
He’s not really in a hurry to get things in order, rather Ashley is almost content to sleep at his mother’s house until he grows grey. His life finds stability in the form of Jeremy (George Sample III), who adds a calming influence to Ashley after the two men befriend one another.
But just like he does with everyone else, it’s all about me for Ashley as he figures out a way how to benefit from the friendship. That takes place in the form of Ashley coming up with a wild scheme to collect old, throwaway refrigerators and dump them for money.
Of course, none of this would be possible if Ashley does not convince Jeremy to use his truck in order to accomplish the daily task. Manipulation can be used as a tool for self-absorbed behavior. To this extent, Ashley is a master at this this, not only drawing Jeremy into his web of innocent deceit, but also Nat (Kellee Stewart), Jeremy’s aunt.
A clear bounce back from Linda, Nat serves as Ashley’s spring fling until he returns into the arms of Linda. That’s presents a big problem for Ashley, who is confounded in trying to choose to take up with his current beau who is willing to take him and his wicked ways as he tries to make a last-ditch effort to woo Linda back to him.
Ashley is a man so obsessed with his past life that he can’t let it go and look at what the present and future holds for him. Most people who have stood behind bars for an extended amount of time face the challenge of re-connecting with the ghost of their existence before they served that time.
That plot in the film gives way to the subplot of Jeremy, who battles to try to keep his bedridden grandfather alive in a nursing home. In the midst of developing issue, Jeremy is sickly but does not know the full extent of his illness until its too late.
The dynamic of the “Hunter Gatherer” is the intersecting stories of all of these characters play out their lives in a real-time way. There are no drive-by shootings in this movie, no sense of violence and destruction that usually is associated with a movie about the urban community.
The “Hunter Gatherer” is just a simple film about everyday people trying to make sense of their lives and their lot in life. Whether you live in the suburbs, reside on a beach resort or trying to navigate survival in a tough neighborhood, everyone is trying to find that happy medium. That’s why this film connects so wonderfully.