The Austin Chronicle

A Death Row Inmate's 'Last 40 Miles'

By Eli Black, December 11, 2012, 10:52am, Picture in Picture

Onalaska Films is premiering the trailer for their animated short, “The Last 40 Miles,” and throwing a fundraising party with the works: from drinks and a silent auction to live music from alt-country rockers These Mad Dogs of Glory and aggressive folkies Hello Wheels.

Based on true stories, “The Last 40 Miles” follows an inmate, Ray (a composite character), on his final journey from the prison in Livingston to the execution chamber in Huntsville. The self-funded Onalaska group includes British journalist Alex Hannaford, producer/cinematographer Meg Mulloy, and animators Jeff Roth and Lucas Dimick. The film features local Austinites Victor Steele, Gary Warner Kent, and Al Dinneen, with a score written by British songwriter Ben Onono.

The idea for the project was conceived by Hannaford, who spent the better part of the last decade covering the Texas death penalty. His intention was to explore what he considers to be the “often tragic” stories of those on death row, an angle he feels has yet to be properly examined. He was further inspired when he took the same drive as prisoners do on their way to execution. Hannaford recalls being “struck by how pretty it was – through the east Texas pine woods and rolling countryside, across Lake Livingston. This is the last thing these men ever see.” He teamed up with Mulloy, Roth, and Dimick, teachers and colleagues at the Art Institute of Austin, and the project took off.

Though Hannaford opposes the death penalty, an opinion not unanimously shared by the group, the film isn’t about taking a stance or making an overt political point. As Roth explains, “It's not about Ray's crime. It's not about whether capital punishment is right or wrong. It's about one man's third trip to the death chamber and the relationship he has with the guard who has also spent nearly 30 years on Death Row.”

Though Hannaford describes the film as a “simple story” – and it might ostensibly be – a look at the trailer reveals complexities and intricacies in meaning and technical animation. According to Roth, there are “four different types of animation in the film. Rotoscoped characters for the present, 2.5D cutout animation for the flashbacks, a simple fluid ‘breathing line’ style of drawing for Ray's imagination and some 3D for the van.”

Hannaford was inspired to use animation as the medium for his project by watching the Oscar-nominated animated shorts every year at the Alamo. He felt that “although the animation is always fantastic, often there isn't really much of a story line,” thinking that a “simple human interest story – based on real events – and told in animation, could be a bit different.” The money from the fundraiser will go to production costs and film festival entry fees for this ambitious and “different” local Austin project.

“The Last 40 Miles” Trailer Premiere and Fundraising Party takes place Wednesday, Dec. 12, 7pm, at the Palm Door (401 Sabine St.).

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