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By Merle Bertrand | March 29, 2000

The best independent film of the SXSW Film Festival wasn’t even in competition. As a result, there wasn’t much buzz surrounding Andrew Garrison’s authentic and captivating rural triptych “The Wilgus Stories,” which is a real shame. Adapted from Gurney Norman’s “Kinfolks: The Wilgus Stories,” this film depicts three defining moments in young Wilgus Collier’s life. In “Fat Monroe,” it’s the late 1950s and nine-year-old Wilgus has run away from home. He’s picked up by a genially cantankerous redneck (Ned Beatty in the performance of the festival) whose dilapidated pick-up truck looks about as good as the soggy cigar he clenches between his teeth. Before you can say “reverse psychology,” the fast-talking rascal has out-duelled the precocious youth into defending everything he’d run away to escape from. Effortlessly shifting moods, “Night Ride” portrays an adolescent Wilgus taking off on a revealing drive with his uncle; an alcohol-fueled, firearm-blasting rite of passage where he learns more about his father and approaches the cusp of manhood. Finally, there’s “Maxine.” Set in 1969, Wilgus, now a tie-dyed young man with frizzy hair and a VW Bug to match, picks up his friend Maxine at the bus stop. A still-pretty thirty-seven year old grandmother-to-be, Maxine fights the depression of her lonely life and fishes for compliments from her young friend who innocently obliges…and passes on a once in a lifetime chance to be with a Mrs. Robinson he doesn’t realize is the woman of his dreams. Filled with solid performances and set to a perfectly pitched bluegrass soundtrack that marvelously complements the lushly photographed rolling green Kentucky foothills, “The Wilgus Stories” is a poignant, wonderful film. Let the buzz start here.

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