After many, many months of waiting, AtTheFaire.com has finally gotten to see the rennie movie Keepers of the Kingdom.
This is John-Paul's story...
JOHN-PAUL TAKES ON THE KEEPERS OF THE KINGDOM
I don't remember how I first found out about the new "rennie documentary" but I think it was from a link on another faire related site. Perhaps someone sent me an e-mail about it... Does anyone remember? At any rate, the old web site (www.renniesthemovie.com) is no longer around, so perhaps I found out about it before the film had a full title. Indeed, I recall visiting the site early on and watching a short video "preview" which was later replaced by a longer and different short video "preview" on the different new site, www.keepersofthekingdom.com. My bookmarks hate me.
While watching the short clip I discovered something: rennies are all the same. Or, at least, the stereotypical rennies that were reflected in the clip was all the same as the ones we knew in our area. I hastily wrote an article for AtTheFaire discussing this. You may wish to read it by clicking here. Soon after this article we (somehow) got the attention of the filmmaker, Christopher Gomersall. He put a link to AtTheFaire.com up on his site. Wow! His company, Upstairs Media, seemed to have no connection with renaissance activities so we were eager to see just what this film was going to be like. Can a non-rennie make a good rennie movie? Our assumption that he was a non-rennie was only partially accurate, but we wouldn't discover that for many more months.
Many more months passed, then...
One day an e-mail arrived in our inboxes inviting us to a special screening of the movie. The problem was that this screening was in Texas and there wasn't enough time for us to make travel arrangements. (Yes, we probably would have gone just to do a review and meet some of the festival legends we hear about so often. The Renaissance Foundation was even considering sending someone.) We had to pass on this opportunity, but a reader of our site, Nell Gavin, was able to make it. She contributed a review of the film shortly after the screening. We owe Nell a special thanks for sharing her views.
Soon after publishing the review we were contacted by Mr. Gomersall and he offered to get us a copy of the film to view ourselves. Tonight we finally got around to watching the film. (We've been to five different weekend festivals over the past five weeks, you see. We would have viewed it earlier but we've been, er, really busy... You guys that just have one or two BIG long running events in your area should consider yourself quite lucky! We have to visit a dozen festivals to get as many weekends in as you would at, say, the Texas Renaissance Festival... but I digress, as always.)
The Keepers of the Kingdom
We fired up the video player and pressed play. Moments later we were reading the FBI copy this film and die warning. We got goosebumps as the first images of a festival came on the screen. Stills and video clips taken from various Texas events came to life as a voice narrated the history of renaissance festivals in America. I've always heard they started in the 60s, but I had no idea it was 1962. This is our world, we thought. We do this! Suddenly I felt out of place sitting in my livingroom without my floppy hot on. At least I had my mug ;-) Heck, the film even shows a dictionary entry for the word rennie at one point and clearly shows its acceptance as a slang term in 1970! What a long strange trip it's been.
Two voices narrate. The male voice is, apparently, the filmmaker. The female voice belongs to his wife (we believe). As an amateur filmmaker (having started working on home video productions back in the very early 1980s), I immediately found some of the voice-overs sounded a bit too "read"a professional announcer might have come in handy in making the film sound more professional. Perhaps, though, the documentary is more human by having real people narrate. Regardless, the words are the same.
The film takes a look at performers, event organizers, lifetime faire junkies and casual patrons. A handful of characters are given extensive interview time while they explain what they do for a living, how they got involved with festivals, and what, exactly, they are doing there in the first place. Phoenix, the fire breathing sword swallower we saw at the Hamlet of Slater in 2000, makes an appearance as they dig into his upbringing. He ran away from a religious household and joined the circus, actually, then switched to renaissance festivals after he visited one and saw how much money another sword swallower was making. Isn't it neat that we, living in the middle of Iowa, have already found out something we didn't know about someone we've seen (and enjoyed) at one of our events?
We also catch a glimpse of the singing executioners, Smee and Blog. We see them every year at the Faire of the Midlands in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Al (the tall one) is interviewed sporadically and he contributes much insight about the structure and history of these events. He will actually have a book published in the near future that will make more of his experiences and knowledge available. We have heard that Al was brought in after early versions of the film had already been completed. Extra interview segments were filmed which may have greatly altered the look of the film from its original incarnation. Hopefully we can get the director to contribute an article about the "making of" this film in the future.
Keepers then goes on and on as we see stage combat being practiced. How does someone become a festival fighter? We get a few answers, and see a bit of footage of people learning moves and falling off of buildings. There is also quite a bit of talk with musicians and we soon see that, yes, rennies are a pretty odd bunch in general. What's better than being able to play the guitar and perform? Why, being able to play the guitar and perform while dressed as a satyr, of course! We get some laughs from Echo as the film shows some of his shtick. The S.C.A. is also given some heavy duty screen time as we learn that not everyone at festivals is doing it for the acting and fantasy.
Speaking of jugglers, what would a festival documentary be without jugglers? Shorter! Keepers of the Kingdom increases its length by talking with Throw Up, a long time juggling duo. We see a bit of their show (which looks quite hilarious) and they talk to us about the difference in performing at a faire versus performing at a more traditional comedy venue. A festival audience, they say, is more challenging and wants you to be funny. The club scene is easier since it is filled with people who already know what to expect. I guess having to pull people off the street does create a rather unexpecting audience. I had not considered this before.
Speaking of challenges, various characters on the street are interviewed and most of them don't even seem to be working the festival. Patrons with very elaborate outfits get some screen time as they explain what it took for them to develop their wardrobe. A piece here, a piece there, then seven years later a lucky leather clad couple (that insists they are shy in real life) is able to walk through a festival and attract alot of attention. I'm sure everyone reading this probably has seen this a million times, but how many of us have ever stopped and talked to them extensively about what prompted them to build such an elaborate outfit just to pay at the gate and have fun? The invasion of Star Trek characters came as a big surprise to me. Apparently this type of thing is fairly common, but I've never seen anyone do that at the Midwest events I frequent... thank goodness. Someone recently posted in our message board that you can easily get rid of Trekkers at a festival by pointing out they are in violation of the Prime Directive. I'll have to keep that in mind.
Another segment talks about those who seem to "live" at festivals. Camping out, traveling with the show, yet possibly not having any real affiliation (or employment) with the event. We see various dirges of society with unbrushed hair (and teeth) mumble about what attracts them to this lifestyle. The frequent subject of "this is where all the hippies went" seems to ring true. And to think, I thought these guys only hung out at my festivals! Keepers is proving to be a very big eye opening for me as I realize my original stereotype article was much more accurate than I ever would have imagined.
And what about the merchants? We see a glimpse into a handful of them as they muse out of character about the magic required to create their warez. Many of the smaller festivals I attend are much more restrictive about hand-made items, but this particular event has one fellow almost embarrassed to mention his use of modern laser cutting for his goods. Neat, and something you probably never would have heard first hand if you had walked into his shop.
The footage is all shot at various Texas events such as the Hawkwood Faire and the Texas Renaissance Festival. Surprisingly the settings look like they were lifted from other events I have seen such as the Kansas City Renaissance Festival. Again, more eye openers. Perhaps this is one of the reasons rennies feel so comfortable at almost any faire? The big extended family is said to welcome distant cousins without too much hassle, and my personal experience agrees with this 100%.
But is it any good?
Mistress Willa and myself both enjoyed our hour long viewing of Keepers of the Kingdom but a few items jump out. In many of the segments you can hear the off camera voices of the filmmakers as they prompt the onscreen subjects to discuss various things. This removes much of the professional polish I was expecting. The opening credits, after all, were quite impressive. And speaking of credits, between segments are many fade to black screens with white text overlays describing the next bit (a technique I use quite often when I make my own movies on my Mac). I'd almost have wanted to see more overlays during bits of dialogmy memory is so short term that I often forget which person I am seeing on screen (and whether or not their opinion matters to me). Still, the production quality is very good and should work well enough for a television audience (other than the offscreen voices). I can't see why any rennie wouldn't want to see this film. It's just fun.
Distractingly, throughout the program I kept thinking things like "Hey, he's not even speaking with a decent accent!" or "Even our festival has less plywood showing than that one." Yes, apparently even the big scale and somewhat legendary events all have their mundane flaws. I guess this dose of reality will do me some goodthis was a documentary and not a fantasy film, after all. It simply means that sometimes we think the grass is greener on our side of the fence when, in actuality, we are sharing the same plot of land. I did end up thinking "wow, I'd like to see Hawkwood" but at the same time I thought "boy am I glad we don't have anything that cheesy at..." I'm very glad to see a film that views things from the outside. An "insiders view" would most likely be much more editorial and reflect far less of the realities of festival life. I think we even saw some of the less than stable patrons rambling on about why they enjoy festivals. Yep, sometimes real life isn't all pretty. (Though Lucy the wench was a real dish...)
Viewing this film highly motivates me to do some more work on my own video projects. As the filmmaker has stated, there are so many other types of rennie movies that could have been made and still can be. No one is saying that this is the rennie movie to end all rennie movies and it can't be considering it only had an hour to summarize just what life behind a festival really is. It is not your view, nor is it my view. It is a glimpse into a faire from the perspective of a man who got into events just because his wife decided to dress him up and drag him into it and, years later, he devotes months of time to producing a movie about it. I find his take on things to be very interesting. Many of his choices hit very close to home, while others make me wonder what led him to filming the segment. Still, I think there is enough here to say "something for everyone" though I already know that merchants will find the film light on their backgrounds while 20 year faire veterans will find the life of the rennies is hardly even touched on. The more you know, perhaps, the less you will enjoy this film.
I guess this is why really smart people who did excellent in science always do nothing but bitch when they go see a science fiction movie...
So what now?
The documentary will hopefully find distribution on a cable channel or somewhere else. At some point in the future Upstairs Media may even make the film available on VHS. When either happens, be sure to catch it and let us know what you think. All I can say is...
I liked it!
Thanks, Chris, for giving us goosebumps and, surprisingly, make us miss being at faire right after five weekends of different events. Now we can't wait for the next one... Maybe I'll take my camera and return the favor by sending you a copy of my take on the secret life of rennies.
My favorite part had to be one of the closing quotes:
"This is where we come to life. This is where we live. And, really, everything that happens before or after is just simply waiting. Simply waiting."
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