Recently, an enthusiastic audience of friends and fans attended the premier of Antero Alli's newest film, "Out of the Woods," at Humanist Hall in Oakland. Mr. Alli, a beloved Bay area writer of books on such arcana as astrology, magick, and consciousness, filmmaker, and experimental theatre impressario and his wife, composer and singer Sylvi Alli, present this film (for which Sylvi Alli composed the score) as their parting shot before moving from Berkeley to Portland. The audience who attended on this bittersweet occasion had no reason to be disappointed! "Out of the Woods" is a haunting, visually engaging, thematically intriguing and dramatically exciting film. It is beautifully photographed, well-edited, and finely acted. Charlie (Malachi Maynard) is a quiet spoken, shy young man, living with his girlfriend, Bonnie (Alicia Ivanhoe), in San Francisco. Having grown up in rural California, among the redwoods, Charlie feels stifled and cramped by city life. He tells Bonnie he longs to spend time in the forest, that he misses the nature spirits. In a beautifully realized sequence (fantasy? dream? memory?) we see Charlie as a boy among the trees, fully engaged with the spirits, one in particular. When Charlie announces his decision to go back alone to the woods, we are prepared to expect the unexpected. Alone in the forest, Charlie seems to be liberated, running wildly through the brush, haunted and companioned by the nature spirits he has missed so badly, including the spirit remembered from his childhood, identified in the credits as "Sylvani, a Tree Spirit" (Sylvi Alli). Taking a fall, he injures his head and awakens an amnesiac. Shortly after, he is found and cared for by the eccentric "Man of God" (a perfectly cast Luka Dziubyna), who first suspects Charlie of being a zombie, but then relents as he discoveres that Charlie's amnesia has given him the special power of reading minds. It is one of the pleasures of this film that the discovery of Charlie's power does not seem hokey or unbelievable. One reason for that is Malachi Maynard's unusual appearance, and haunted, other worldly manner. His elfish good looks and oddball vulnerability are perfectly suited to his role. Also, the haunting sequences with the spirits that proceed Charlie's transformation prepare us to accept the supernatural. We might find ourselves asking whether the amnesiac Charlie is indeed the boy who came to the forest, or if he has become possessed by one of the nature spirits. What follows is an exploration of what becomes of Charlie now that he has this mysterious power. He soon encounters a show business promoter, Frank Nation (an excellent Andrew Gurevich) and his kind-hearted girlfriend, Lorraine Bender (Robin Coomer) who, when he demonstrates his mind reading ability, anticipate a financial goldmine if Charlie (renamed Bill Shiner by his new manager) can be taught to perform onstage. The story of Bill Shiner's rise to fame and his subsequent sudden retirement is bookended with the conceit that a young documentary filmmaker wants to learn the explanation of Shiner's disappearance from the stage. He has found the elderly man (played very effectively by a non-actor, Mick Roche), and interviews him. The older Charlie has recovered his memory, and is living as a hermit. Why is he a hermit? What became of his powers? What does the story have to do with the tree spirit Sylvani? And what of his girlfriend, Bonnie, with whom he was in love? I will not answer the questions with spoilers, but will say that the answers to these questions are intriguingly and satisfactorily told in a lovely film that explores themes of artistry and talent, the alienating effects of being inspired by the muse, and the rewards that come with that as well. In addition to Alli's excellent cinematography and the pleasure of several fine performances, the film employs an enchanting and memorable score composed and sung by Sylvi Alli and others.
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