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‘Succession’ Meets ‘Game Of Thrones’ In HBO Docuseries ‘Ren Faire’


Succession meets Game of Thrones in the documentary series Ren Faire, which premieres on HBO this Sunday.

Lance Oppenheim directed the three-parter about the battle to take the reins of the Texas Renaissance Festival, the largest ren faire in the world. At outdoor festivals of this ilk — in case you’re unaware — performers suit up in medieval attire, musicians tootle on flutes and strum lyres, fire eaters consume flames, and fans devour massive turkey drumsticks and fistfuls of kettle corn.

The Logan Roy – or, if you prefer, King Aerys II – in this scenario is aging potentate George Coulam, founder and ruler of the Texas ren faire. He’s a colorful character, to say the least, and if you doubt that, consider how he describes himself on his website: “George Coulam is a healthy 6’2”, 173 lbs., 86-year-old sexually active Caucasian male entrepreneur.”

George Coulam in 'Ren Faire'

George Coulam in ‘Ren Faire’

HBO

“He has power, as the elected mayor of the town he incorporated,” notes a synopsis of the series. “He has glory, as the undisputed employer and self-proclaimed ruler of thousands. He has vast wealth, as the majority shareholder of the festival. Now, he is ready to give it all up and spend the last years of his life in the quest for a romantic companion. But before he retires, George will finally choose which of his longtime employees will take his crown.”

Among the aspirants to assume power are general manager Jeffrey Baldwin, “Lord of Corn” Louie Migliaccio, and elephant trainer Darla Smith. [Watch the trailer below]

Darren Aronofsky & Lance Oppenheim

Darren Aronofsky & Lance Oppenheim at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival

Matthew Carey

Oppenheim spoke about his documentary series at the Independent Film Festival Boston earlier this month. “What we thought was a comedy at first, which initially felt somewhat absurd – the universe, the landscape – it became a tragedy,” he said at a Q&A. “I feel like we all know a version of these people. We all know a Jeff, we all know a George, we all know a Louie… Everyone [knew] they’re a part of a game, and they wanted to have someone around to essentially document it.”

'Ren Faire' poster

HBO

Oppenheim said he conferred with cinematographer Nate Hurtsellers before filming began on how to answer key questions: “How do we immerse the audience in what the world is there? How do we take the fantastical elements, the mythological stuff – how do we bring that into sort of the back-office drama where, essentially, this could be any business?”

At the age of 28, Oppenheim has directed eight shorts, a documentary series, and two feature documentaries, including Spermworld, which premiered earlier this year and is now streaming on Hulu (logline: “Three men enter the new wild west of baby making – online forums where sperm donors connect with hopeful parents – but find themselves exchanging more than just genetic material”). Darren Aronofsky produced his directorial feature debut, Some Kind of Heaven, which premiered to acclaim at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. That film centered on The Villages, “Florida’s Friendliest Active Adult 55+ Retirement Community,” where the enforced positivity masks some darker goings on.

George Coulam in 'Ren Faire'

Easy lies the head that wears the crown. Did they have sunglasses back in medieval times?

HBO

David Gauvey Herbert, an executive producer of Ren Faire who brought the project to Oppenheim, assessed the filmmaker’s oeuvre at the Boston Q&A, observing, “He’s obsessed with people who get trapped in worlds of their own making.”

In Texas Renaissance Festival owner George’s Coulam’s world, he is the sovereign and he makes the decisions – with occasional assistance from celestial beings.

“If he talks to an angel, which happened,” Oppenheim noted, “it could lead to someone getting fired.”

Is Coulam closer to Shakespeare’s jolly rake Falstaff, or to mad King Lear? The trailer below may provide some clues.

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