Monday, May 5, 2014

Hot Docs 2014 Film Review - The Last Season

The Matsutake mushroom is a sought after delicacy in Japan. It is a top dollar item in Japanese cuisine that is fond in abundance it the most unlikely place Chemult, Oregon. Every fall until the first real snowfall is hunting season.  The participants are mainly from Cambodia, Thailand and Laos with a sprinkling of local pickers.  The focal point of the hunt is known as Mushroom Camp where the workers live, play traditional music, celebrate the Buddhist fall holidays, Karaoke and bring in the days work for weighing.

Director Sara Dosa builds a multi layered production that constantly unearths new information as it progresses. The piece features several sequences of hand held camera work as the action follows the main players as they hunt through the Oregon woods in search of the prized fungus. Dosa also mixes in archival footage of the main events from the past that shaped the lives of the two main protagonists. Kouy Loch and Roger Higgins.

Loch, a Cambodian refugee who fought against the Khmer Rouge has been coming to Chemult from Southern California for years for the fall mushroom picking season. His style is slow and plodding. Armed with is trusty walking stick he scours the forest for that special mushroom that depending on weight, shape and appearance could be worth up to $1500.  He is trying to provide for his 7 year old daughter Jeanette while living with the effects of the war in Cambodia and what it did to his family and himself.  Roger Higgins is a Vietnam veteran who served in the early days of the conflict back in 1963. He is now weak and on a breathing apparatus having abused alcohol for decades trying to rid himself of the nightmares of what he saw and did during the war 50 years before. The two met in the Mushroom Camp 6 year prior starting with small talk they realized that they both had similar South Asian war time experiences and modern day struggles leading to a bond of friendship. Then more as their relationship grew and changed again after Loch's mother his last family connection passed.

Dosa brings the viewers into the world and culture of mushroom picking. The ups and downs of the hunt. The pricing of the daily haul based solely the daily Japanese Stock Market price. The camera catches the nightly activities in the camp plus the set up for and pageantry of two Buddhist ceremonies. However, the main focus of the Documentary is the relationship between two men with decades old scars from war that have ravaged each both mentally and physically. Dosa digs deep into this relationship between the two who met in the most unlikely of places and ultimately help each other to heal as their relationship grows.

*** 1/2 out of 4.

The Last Season | Sara Dosa | U.S.A. | 2014| 93 Minutes.

Tags: Matsutake Mushroom, Oregon, Khmer Rouge, Vietnam, Sniper, PTSD, War, Family, Cambodia, Buddhist.

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