Denver film festival highlights films about the legend
The Starz Denver Film Festival showed a premiere of two films about legendary gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson Saturday night.
The films, “Blasted!!! The Gonzo Patriots of Hunter S. Thompson,” and “Free Lisl: Fear and Loathing in Denver,” were screened at the Denver Press Club to sold-out audiences. Both filmmakers were on hand to present their movies.
“Blasted!!! The Gonzo Patriots of Hunter S. Thompson,” was written and directed by Blue Kraning, a professional filmmaker from Los Angeles. The film is a documentary about the fans who volunteered the use of their privately-owned artillery to fire the ashes of the late author Thompson. It was Thompson’s last wish that his worldly remains be blown out of a cannon.
The film begins with the explanations of Thompson’s last wish and the Aspen Daily News-sponsored essay contest that encouraged cannon owners interested in shooting off Thompson’s remains to write 100 words explaining why they should be the ones to do it. Troy Hopper of the Aspen Daily News said 50 groups sent in essays hoping to have their cannons used.
Kraning’s film consists of interviews and demonstrations of five of these groups of cannoneers.
Paul Stone is featured as one of these cannoneers. Dressed in a pink and purple polyester suit, wearing a chrome World War I pickelhaube, Stone displays his homemade cannon – a cannon he uses to blast bowling balls through various targets placed 10 feet from the gun’s muzzle. He blew up a TV, a propane barbecue grill, a piano and several stuffed animals, all in an attempt to demonstrate his cannon’s ability to do Thompson’s ashes justice.
Not only is Stone shown as an avowed destructionist, he also spoke of his Second Amendment rights.
“A lot of people think Americans are all into guns,” Stone said. “Some of us are into artillery.”
Kraning said he made this film in honor of Thompson; a man he’d never met and yet said had a big influence on his life. Kraning is a graduate of the SUNY Purchase film school in Westchester, N.Y. He will be showing his documentary next at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
“Free Lisl: Fear and Loathing in Denver,” was written and directed by Wayne Ewing, who has, to date, made three films about Thompson, the others being, “Breakfast with Hunter,” and “When I Die.”
The film is a documentary about the Lisl Auman case.
On Nov. 12, 1997 a standoff with police in Denver ended with two men dead: Denver police officer Bruce VanderJagt and Matthaues Jaehnig, who after killing VanderJagt killed himself. In police custody at the time of the killings was Auman, who had been in the vehicle with Jaehnig during the high-speed chase that led to the standoff.
As a result of her involvement in the incident, Auman was charged with felony murder in the death of VanderJagt. She was consequently found guilty and sentenced to life without parole. While in prison, Auman wrote a letter to Thompson that ultimately led to the author’s involvement in the cause to free Auman from prison.
Thompson’s intervention in the case brought national attention to Auman and what many believed was a miscarriage of justice. Eventually, the Colorado Supreme Court heard Auman’s appeals and found sufficient cause for a re-trial. Auman then took a plea bargain for 20 years of community corrections and is now serving that sentence on the street.
Using interviews and news footage, Ewing’s film documents the case from the night of the killings to Auman’s release from prison.
Thompson did not live to see Auman freed. He committed suicide several days before the findings of the Colorado Supreme Court were handed down.
After the screening, a panel discussed the film and the Auman case. Panelists included filmmaker Ewing Curtis Robinson, attorneys Hal Haddon and Gerry Robinson as well as Juan Thompson, the son of Hunter S. Thompson.
One of the focuses of the film that was discussed by the panel was the way the media seemingly convicted Auman in the court of public opinion. Robinson, a journalist himself, said that the journalists who took the time got the story right. But he said for the most part, the early reporting on the case was not accurate and eventually hurt Auman when it came to trial.
Juan Thompson said his father was deeply invested in the Auman case.
“The Lisl Auman case was his last hurrah,” Thompson said. “This was a case he was going to do all he could.”
Robinson read a prepared statement by Anita Thompson, the widow of Hunter S. Thompson. In it she expressed he sorrow that she was unable to attend. She ended the letter with a quote from her husband that explained why the author was involved with the Auman case.
“We is the most important word in Politics,” he wrote.