Normally, when you make a post-apocalyptic film, you don’t expect part of it to come true while you’re in the midst of post-production.
My short film “Sundown Trail” showed me how that can happen.
I wrote and directed “Sundown Trail” in 2019, well before “masking” was a thing, but one of the very first lines in the film is a kid complaining, “I hate wearing these stupid masks.”
So even though I didn’t set out to make a film commenting on the pandemic--that’s often the way audiences have viewed it. I don’t know if that connection has helped or hurt the film. It’s impossible to know for sure.
What I do know is why I made the film and what I hoped to accomplish.
First, I wanted to tell a compelling and intense story combining two of my favorite genres, science fiction and westerns. Because while the setting and style of “Sundown Trail” fits the former genre, thematically it’s a western.
Basically, I’m playing with the “Pa got snakebit, I gotta go for an antidote” trope.
The film has bandits, a shoot out and redemption. It’s also a coming-of-age story that takes a young, timid boy and puts him in the hardest possible situations. He’s forced to either grow up and become a man or fail his family and himself.
Which leads me to my other goal – I wanted to tell a story of “Positive Masculinity.” It makes me sad that you even have to qualify “masculinity” with a “positive.” I’ve grown tired of the discourse about “toxic masculinity,” and I wanted to counter that destructive message.
Young men and boys need to know that there isn’t anything wrong with them. They aren’t inherently broken and they don’t need to have their edges rounded out by society. And I wanted to show a good father on screen.
Fathers are important. They roughhouse, they tease and they push their children beyond their limits and help them grow. I am so tired of how the media portrays them as either bumbling idiots or violent abusers.
So I made a film about a scared boy who is guided by a strong and loving father. He grows into someone who is brave enough to lead, strong enough to stand up to evil and compassionate enough to help a stranger.
Narrative is incredibly powerful, and I believe we have to create work that is true to our values while, at the same time, not being preachy so that it reaches as large an audience as possible.
“Sundown Trail” is proof of how this is possible.
After a successful festival run with more than 35 wins and nominations from around the world, it was released on one of the largest online short film channels, Omeleto.
I was super excited because they aren’t a “genre” channel, which means the film would be reaching a more general audience. And just like at the film festivals, the audience responded to the message of compassion, hope and the importance of strong fathers.
Even more encouraging was how many of the comments were people wanting more of the story. Which is great, because I have both feature and episodic versions of “Sundown Trail.”
In the feature version, I stay true to the themes and story of the short. It’s a coming-of-age Western about a boy becoming a man. But since it’s a feature, and I have more time to play with, I’m able to delve deeper into the lives of the characters.
We learn more about the father and son, introducing the mother and the small community they live in. We also see the day unfold from the bandits’ perspective and watch the chain of events that led them to the woods where they encounter the father and son.
During the story we meet two more groups of people, the “Remanents” — former government and soldiers, and the “Dead Men” — a ruthless gang that controls most of the wild lands. Each group has their own goals and whenever they interact, conflict emerges.
“…a toxic mushroom called Sundowns. Its spores release a poisonous toxin that kills its victim…” Alan Ng takes the dangerous route as he ventures through the Sundown Trail.https://t.co/NIa4lg1PjP #SupportIndieFilm #SundownTrail #SciFi #Short pic.twitter.com/Y4Q1bmxK94
— Film Threat (@FilmThreat) March 3, 2022
In the episodic version of “Sundown Trail” I take a closer look at each of the different groups. Their individual goals and perspectives serve as the thematic underpinnings for the show. The Family is focused on creating a better future for their children, the Remanents are obsessed with restoring the power they once held and the Bandits are hedonistically in the present--living only for the moment.
The “TV show” version will be an exploration of perspective and of how point-of-view shapes our interpretation of events.
There are so many compelling stories that can be told in that world, an opportunity to explore important questions of morality--without banging the audience over the head with an ideological stick.
And if my experience with the short is an indication, I believe there’s desire for this sort of storytelling. But regardless if I get to make a feature or show, I’m incredibly proud of the short film and thankful for the journey it’s taken me on.
Fingers crossed my next science fiction project will stay completely in the realm of “fiction.
Luke Asa Guidici is the director of “Sundown Trail.” At age 6 he broke his family’s TV. They didn’t get another one. Instead he explored the woods, read encyclopedias and played with LEGOs. Everyday he imagined new worlds as he learned to tell his own stories. When he’s not writing & directing, you’ll find him woodworking, snowboarding, or making cocktails for his wife at their home in Boise.
Please follow him on Twitter @lukeguidici.