Truth may be stranger than fiction, but it isn’t necessarily as funny. Which is part of the reason why Texas native Mario Kyprianou took a comedic approach to dramatizing a bizarre chapter of Lone Star State history in The Republic of Rick, his debut feature as an indie writer-director, which will have an encore presentation this weekend during the final days of the 2014 WorldFest/Houston International Film Festival.
The movie – which will screen at 7 p.m. Saturday at the AMC Studio 30 – is loosely based on the real-life misadventures of Rick McLaren, the Texas secessionist who, along with other armed members of a Republic of Texas cabal, sustained a week-long standoff with police and Texas Rangers while holding hostages inside their Fort Davis redoubt.
“I think if Texas really seceded,” Kyprianu says, “we’d be in trouble, because the rest of America has nuclear weapons. So I don’t think we could really pull it off."
In the world reimagined by Kyprianou, McLaren is rechristened Rick Launer, played – broadly yet sympathetically – by Dave Abed, and arguably more successful in pursuing his goal of Texas independence.
“I just fell in love with these characters,” Kyprianu says. “So I wanted to find the happiest ending for them.”
Not that Kyprianu started out with any intention to celebrate McLaren (who, in the real world, remains behind bars). Truth to tell, he wanted to tell a tall tale inspired partly by Don Quixote, and partly by the revolutionary freedom fighters of his parents’ native Cyprus.
It’s just that, during his formative years in Dallas, “Secession was a topic of conversation that always came up as I was growing up.” Years later, after he graduated from the UCLA school of screenwriting, “I told some friends about an idea I had for a group that wanted to fight to make Texas their own country. And that’s when they told me that, hey, something like that really did happen back in 1997.”
Intrigued, Kyprianu traveled to Fort Davis on a fact-finding mission. “When I first got to the area,” he says, “people hated me. Because, frankly, they were ready to be done with Rick. They didn’t want to hear about him ever again. But [Joe Rowe], one of the hostages, was the coolest guy in the world. He invited me over to his house, so I was over there a couple of days interviewing him. And then it kind of took off from there.”
Kyprianu later tracked down McLaren’s lawyer in Dallas. “And he gave me all these videos that had been used as evidence. He had tapes of stuff that this TV news crew had done when they went up to Fort Davis and interviewed the militia for days. It was a great way to get inside the characters, and get some idea of the texture and the feel of their conspiracy theories.
“I also became pen pals with Rick McLaren from prison. That is, until he started trying to get me to run some errands and meet different people for him. Then I kind of backed off, and started writing.”
Kyprianu admits to a certain degree of grudging admiration for McLaren, whom he views as “an idealist,” not unlike Don Quixote, with sufficient charismatic appeal to convince loyalists “to go along for the ride.” That doesn’t mean, however, that he supports McLaren’s goals.
“I think if Texas really seceded,” Kyprianu says, “we’d be in trouble, because the rest of America has nuclear weapons. So I don’t think we could really pull it off.
“Of course, we might be hiding our own nuclear weapons on someone’s ranch right now. So who knows?
Here are some other options for audiences during the final weekend of WorldFest 2014. (Unless otherwise noted, each will be offered at the AMC Studio 30.)
Indefatigable indie filmmaker Henry Jaglom (Queen of the Lot, Hollywood Dreams) is represented once again at WorldFest/Houston, this time with an ensemble dramedy that, as its title might imply, deals with menopause. In a broader sense, however, it also deals with other life-changing events at a local TV station where an economic downturn may lead to personnel changes. The cast includes Tanya Frederick, Michael Imperioli, Frances Fisher, Corey Feldman, Mary Roberts, Gregory Harrison and longtime Jaglom collaborator Zack Norman. (7 p.m. Friday)
The esteemed character actor, winner of this year’s WorldFest/Houston Lifetime Achievement Award, sits down for a Q&A with yours truly for a freewheeling chat about career highlights. (His, not mine.) Don’t be surprised if titles such as Big, Scarface, Independence Day and Jagged Edge pop up during the conversation. Hey, who knows? I might even try to slip in a question about one of my all-time favorite TV shows, T.H.E. Cat. (10 a.m. Saturday at Crown Plaza Hotel, Reliant Park.)
Every year, thousands of hearty souls test their endurance and express their faith on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, an 800-kilometer trek to the burial site of Apostle St. James in Compostela, Spain. (Gosh, and I complain when my wife wakes me up early to attend Easter Sunday mass.) Gian D. Ceccato, a 71-year-old industrial engineer, made this documentary about his own experiences while on the long-distance journey of self-discovery. (5 p.m. Saturday)
It’s tempting to surmise that this smartly funny short written and directed by former Houstonian Gail Gilchriest – a screenwriter (My Dog Skip) and TV staff writer/co-producer (TNT’s Dallas) – is just a teeny bit autobiographical. The 10-minute amusement – which will kick off a WorldFest matinee program of comic shorts – details the procrastination of a blocked writer (Julie White, Shia LaBeouf’s mom in the Transformer movies) who’s supposed to be working on a past-due script, but can’t help finding other things to do. Think of it a dramatization of Dorothy Parker’s revealing witticism: “I hate writing. I love having written.” (1 p.m. Sunday)
The latest from acclaimed Taiwanese filmmaker Chang Tso-chi strikes echoes of Hou Hsiao Hsien’s classic A Summer at Grandpa’s (winner of a special jury award at the 1985 Houston Film Festival) with its coming-of-age story about a neglected 10-year-old boy whose soon-to-divorce parents ship him off to spend an extended holiday in the countryside with his widowed grandfather. Far away from the big city, without access to the Internet or video games, Guan Xiaobao (Yang Liang-yu) must make new friends to make life bearable in his unfamiliar surroundings. (5 p.m. Sunday)