Chris Mars' film In Hanford screening at Sundance this month

Chris Mars' film In Hanford screening at Sundance this month
A still from Chris Mars' short film In Hanford.

When musicians become directors, they should be required to start by making short films. Such legislation might have saved us from the feature-length cinematic sadism inflicted upon us by David Byrne, Fred Durst and John Doofus Mellencamp. Chris Mars, former drummer of the irreplaceable Replacements, has figured this out.

Later this month, his 4 minute 31 second movie, In Hanford, will be shown, in competition, at the Sundance Film Festival. This deeply-disturbing, yet strangely-beautiful little flick, which Mars wrote, directed, animated and scored, is as haunting as, say, Here Comes A Regular. Understandably, its maker, now a much-lauded painter, is still buzzing about the acceptance of his short by Robert Redford's stringent selection committee.

See Also:
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More Replacements benefit EP details as Slim Dunlap nears hospital exit

"Basically, we sent [Hanford] around to a bunch of different festivals," says the affable, accessible Mars, referring to himself and wife, Sally. "Obviously, we got many rejections. But we started to get it into some good ones, like Denver Stars. So we then said, 'Why not just send it to Sundance?' on a whim. I was very surprised we got in. I got the news on Thanksgiving. Wow, that was a great feeling."

As Minnesota-modest as he is, Mars seems to know he's done something singular here. His film, a depiction of the ravages of plutonium on the residents of Hanford, Washington, is at once, grotesque, gorgeous and hard to shake. You won't be able to watch it, without its computer-animated cancer victims and freaky, polluted fish, swimming through your dreams for many nights to come.

So what was the genesis of this piece about the horrors of discarded plutonium?

"Years ago, I saw a piece of a documentary about it and said, 'Wow, I didn't even realize it had happened,''" says Mars. "The story had been floating around in my mind. It was one of those things that just stuck in my craw. I was putting together just kind of a mish-mash of a film. I didn't even know where it was going to go and I started putting these pieces together. Then a storyline developed and I thought, 'Wow, this would really fit with the Hanford story. So I mixed my sort of surrealistic elements with the factual elements of that story and that's how it came to be, I guess."

According to the artist, his beautiful bummer of a film, with its images of bodies bloated with cancer and its creepy Simpsons-like fish, has its roots in the work he does with his paint (not drum) brushes.

"The films are kind of an extension of my painting style, which is surrealistic-expressionist. Social Expressionism, mixed with societal comments. Going way, way back, I was influenced by Hieronymous Bosch. And German Expressionists. Sukow was a big influence. So was a man named Beksinski, a Polish artist, who was murdered a couple years ago. My tastes lie in the Expressionist movement. And I do like Surrealism, too. Salvador Dali, obviously. You pick up a little piece here and a piece there and it filters through your own sensibility."

I wonder how long this dense little movie took Mars, anyway.

"I more or less am always painting and that's what I'm concentrating on most of the time," says Mars. "I get these ideas and think, 'I wanna try that.' So, I slowly learned computers. But with the live elements and learning some of the technical aspects? Probably a year and I get one (short film) done."

Even with running his company, Chris Mars Publishing, painting, filmmaking, the man has kept his hand in the art form where he first made his name: music. Not only did he score In Hanford, but he's recorded some tunes to help defray medical costs for former Replacement, Bob 'Slim' Dunlap, who had a serious stroke in 2012. Mars also, inadvertently, tells the world that the closest thing to a real Replacements reunion has recently taken place. Even if the boys never again hit the road (or bottle) again.

"I did one of Slim's songs that will be on The Replacements' (benefit) release. The guys went in the studio. I couldn't make it that day. But Tommy (Stinson) was in town. He and Paul (Westerberg) did a few things themselves and then I did something myself at home. And we kind of threw it on the same thing. So there's gonna be a Replacements' thing on there. I also did a song for Slim sort of prior to that, just to try and raise a little money."

Update: The cover for the project, titled Songs for Slim, has been released on its Facebook page.

Chris Mars' film In Hanford screening at Sundance this month

In the meantime, Mars, it would seem, has his priorities straight.

"I do have a lot of bunch of songs, but I don't really have the time (for music). I'm too busy with other things, like film. I'm heading out to Park City, I think on the 18th. Right now? I'm focusing on that."

Watch more video from the Top Picks channel on Frequency

Info: In Hanford will be shown on the following dates:
Saturday, January 19, 6:30 p.m :
Redstone Cinema 1, Park City

Monday, January 21, 3:00 p.m.
Yarrow Hotel Theatre, Park City

Wednesday, January 23, 3:45 p.m.
Broadway Centre Cinema 3, SLC

Saturday, January 26, 7:00 p.m
Holiday Village Cinema 4, Park City

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