by Richard David Smith III
Damian Lahey is a dude with a crammed calendar these days. If you have never had the pleasure of talking with the filmmaker/songwriter in person, you are missing out on one of Jacksonville’s truly unique characters. He is one of those annoyingly tireless individuals who always has a new artistic project going on with another two on the back burners. You can become exhausted just talking to him. Lahey is also an anomaly in that he is one of the few local filmmakers who spends more time actually making films than talking about making films, all of this while also holding down a steady full time job.
In conversation, unlike much of the indie film crowd, Lahey won’t bore you with delusions of grandeur or didactic tales of some highbrow film that we all know is never going to happen. Conversely, he’s more likely to amuse you with a delightful anecdote or relay a funny tale of some humorous drunken occurrence he witnessed the night before at Birdie’s in Five Points. Some people are just great at telling stories, and Lahey is honestly one of the most enjoyable storytellers I’ve ever known personally. Like most good filmmakers, he prefers first and foremost to entertain you. This organic knack for storytelling combined with a blue collar approach to his art is what has turned Lahey into one of the most notable players in the burgeoning Jacksonville film scene.
Lahey is a graduate of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and is an alumnus of The University of North Carolina School of the Arts Film School and has been producing films since 2002, starting with Ding-A-Ling-Less. Most downtown dwellers will probably remember Lahey most for the 904 centric Cocaine Angel, his 2006 film that took a gritty look at drug addiction, love, and loss, with Duval serving as its setting and its premiere held at MOCA. Lahey’s most recent film, The Heroes of Arvine Place, fetched him Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor awards at the Williamsburg International Film Festival (WILLiFEST) in New York in September.
Heroes, which Lahey directed and co-produced from his original screenplay, follows a particularly downtrodden portion of the fictional life of recent widower and struggling children’s book author Kevin Hedges (played by Cullen Moss) as he raises his two young daughters, who he affectionately calls “little heroes.” The movie takes place during the holidays—Lahey calls it his “scrappy little Christmas movie”—and one of the treats for local viewers is seeing all of the familiarly delightful shots of decorative Christmas scenes throughout downtown, San Marco, etc. Still, why Christmas time in Jacksonville?
“Aside from wanting to get together and make a film with my Jax pals,” explains Lahey, “it is also more humorous and something you don’t see in regards to Xmas movies.”
In an entertainment industry that uses irony as currency and trades in nihilism, Heroes also contains a few other elements you don’t often see in present day indie films: a positive, family-centric message.
“The indie scene views pictures of that sort (life redeeming films) as selling out. You see, the class of people that is predominantly involved in the indie scene and filmmaking in general come from privilege and, sometimes, obscene privilege. My family is well off, but nothing like these people. Their lives are bereft of any sort of real struggling or suffering so they do not appreciate the need to escape into the world of cinema as, say, the trim carpenter who has two autistic kids at home and wants to unwind and watch Lethal Weapon 4 when he gets home from work. A lot of these indie film people look at that guy and think he’s a jerk with lousy taste. They honestly believe he should be coming home, cracking open a beer and watching a Hal Hartley marathon. It’s not only unrealistic to expect that from somebody like that but also exposes the bubble these filmmakers live in. There is a lot of elitism in indie filmmaking and most of them believe they are better than you and better than me. But what I find strange is that they often complain about regular audiences not flocking to see their work.”
While Heroes continues its festival run throughout the rest of this year and next, Lahey is focusing on his other love: music. He and artist Jason Wright (of pop icon art fame) collaborated on an EP titled, “My Lover Has Nightmares.”
“I wrote the lyrics, produced, paid for everything, got everybody together, what have you, “explains Lahey, “Jason rocked out all the music and sang and did the album cover art. Paola Martin did the design layout and my righteous soul brother, Brian Jenkins, did the mastering.”
The music of “Nightmares” is as haunting as the title suggests; Sonic Youth splashed sound and vocal styling of Roger Waters meets Nick Cave—a description by me that Lahey seemed quite all right with.
“You saying that made my day and Jason would surely appreciate that as well. I am a HUGE Roger Waters guy and Jason is a HUGE Nick Cave guy! And the sound is rather reminiscent of ‘Radio Kaos’! I never even thought of that, but you’re right.”
Lahey and Wright will be holding an EP release party as part of “CRUSHEDBLACK PRESENTS…,” being held on Saturday, November 9th , from 7:00 PM to 12:00 AM at “rain dogs.”, 1045 Park Street. The big event will also feature visual artwork by Wright, as well a Drag Performance and mini documentary by Karrissa Wade, short films “Kitty, Kitty” and “The List,” Four Families “La Florida” music video premiere, live music performance by Universal Green, and Midnight Dance Party with DJ Marci Caruso.
Team CRUSHEDBLACK assembled in January of this year, led by founder Keagan Anfuso, with “the purpose of developing a YouTube channel composed of all Jacksonville based guerrilla journalism content.” For more details about the event, go to the “CRUSHEDBLACK PRESENTS…” Facebook page.
“Keagan is true blue business,” offered Lahey. “Genuine people. I met her during the filmmaking of Arvine and she has become a close and trusted friend and collaborator. There’s a lot of dodgy and fraudulent film people here in town and she is one of the few that’s no bullshit.”
Should you get a chance to stop by rain dogs. on the 9th, be sure to say hello to Lahey—it may be your last chance to do so for quite some time.
“For personal and professional reasons,’ Lahey reveals, “I’m not going out or anything after the event until next summer – so this is all a goodbye until then.”
We Can Be Heroes
by Richard David Smith III