One thing to know about filmmaker Allen Farst is he’s a go-getter. As a teenager, that drive earned him a spot as quarterback for the Vandalia Butler High School football team. Most recently his ambition has served him well as the director of the award-winning documentary, “Chuck Leavell: The Tree Man.”
Before Farst had secured a distributor for that film about the longtime keyboardist for the Rolling Stones, the tenacious filmmaker had already confirmed his next project: “Triangle Park.” The documentary is about the local team that participated in the first National Football League game, which actually took place at Triangle Park in Dayton on Oct. 3, 1920.
“As a director, you start to think about dream projects and things you’d like to shine a light on as a filmmaker,” Farst said at a press conference for the new documentary at Carillon Park on Tuesday, Sept. 29. “Working with the Rolling Stones, it doesn’t get much higher than that, right? But during that process, you’re always thinking, like, 'What could I do? What’s going to be the next thing I would shine a light on? What’s interesting to me? I had like 10 projects I was looking at over the last couple of years and at the far left corner of my board that I keep up was this story about the Dayton Triangles. I kept going back to it. I kept seeing it might be a really good project to do.”
Mark Fenner, one of the members of the Triangle Research Project, agrees. He is the great-grandson of Lee Fenner, who was left end for the Dayton Triangles from 1916 to 1929. Fenner, who spoke at the press conference, admitted he was skeptical when he first heard Farst was interested in making a documentary.
“I just kind of figured we were going to be helping out some kid with a camcorder,” Fenner said at Tuesday’s press conference. “We’ve done those kinds of things in the past. We don’t mind doing those. So, I got on the almighty powerful Google machine and I plugged in Allen Farst and his organization and it took me about five minutes of looking at his website to realize this was no joke. This is the real deal so my skepticism immediately left and my excitement level has been compounding steadily ever since.”
Credit: Don Thrasher
Credit: Don Thrasher
THE FILM MAN
Farst is far from a kid messing around with a camcorder. He has been producing national commercials, industrial films and music videos for two decades. For the past eight years, he has also produced films for David Letterman’s IndyCar Series race team, Rahal, Letterman, Lanigan. In 2017, the filmmaker took on his biggest project yet, “Chuck Leavell: The Tree Man.”
If you’re looking for sex, drugs and emotional turmoil, “The Tree Man” is not the rock doc for you. However, in many ways, it is the perfect embodiment of the medium. The core story about Leavell’s music career is fascinating enough. It’s about how a man from Birmingham, Ala., became not only a member of the legendary Allman Brothers Band, but then went on to a 38-year run as keyboardist and bandleader for the Rolling Stones and in-demand sideman.
However, Farst tells a deeper story about Leavell, his work as a conservationist and tree farmer and his love and devotion to Rose Lane, his wife and partner of 46 years. Despite rubbing shoulders with the biggest names in music — Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour — Leavell comes off as the most grounded person in the room. He is the guy next door, albeit with keyboard skills matched by few. The film comes alive when things get personal like Leavell tearing up while discussing his love for his wife or talking eloquently about climate change and his work as a tree farmer and conservationist.
“It was pretty heavy because I had the responsibility to make a documentary about one of the best keyboardists of all time so it better be equally as entertaining as his life has been,” Farst said in a recent telephone interview. “My mojo the whole time was to make something that isn’t the same thing you’ve always seen. To know I was going to have that love relationship and the environmental side that played so well in the film. People just love that and it’s neat to watch it unfold. Then when they get in, they don’t see the forest side coming until I really nail them with it. It’s interesting when it happens because it just hits home.”
While there were some delays because of COVID-19 shutdowns, the film has resonated with audiences. The rock doc premiered in late February at the Sedona Film Festival, where it won a People’s Choice Award. Farst’s plans for future screenings were in limbo until the festival circuit picked back up in late summer. “Tree Man” was the featured film at the Macon Film Festival in mid-August and has since screened at the Calgary International Film Festival and the Seattle True Independent Film Festival.
Credit: Don Thrasher
Credit: Don Thrasher
READY FOR FOOTBALL
While Farst has already worked out many of the specifics, he is still trying to secure financing for “Triangle Park.” He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the film.
“We’re going to have to raise probably 12-to-14-million bucks and that’s going to be a challenge,” Farst said. "The Kickstarter campaign is there for those people who want to support it. We’ll give them a thank you on the film and give them a credit. They might get VIP access to come to a red carpet premiere. We may pull in a couple of grand from the Kickstarter, but we need guys that are going to be able to give checks for a quarter-million.
“I’ve already spoken to several corporations to find out if there is enough sponsorship money that people could put behind this and maybe do 2-, 3-, 4-million bucks,” he continued. “This film needs to come out of our community. If it’s not me, somebody has to do it. This is something that could really bring people to our town like ‘Hoosiers’ did in Indiana. We can do that here. To be honest, I can’t believe no one’s ever told the story about the first ever NFL football game. The thing is, you’d have to be from here to even know about it.”
Farst is the right guy to tell this story.
“For me, it feels almost like destiny,” he said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m not in control, I’m just going through it because I’m supposed to. It’s a little weird but that’s how I got into Chuck’s thing. I worked with him on records and all of that but when I called him up when I was out in Vegas, everything came together for that film. When I’m looking at ‘Triangle Park,’ it feels really familiar like that.”
More info: triangleparkmovie.com.
Contact contributing arts and music writer Don Thrasher at email@example.com.
About the Author