The detritus of an alternative lifestyle is explored with an intimacy both uncomfortable and compelling as a filmmaker son, abandoned by his father in a Hawaiian commune, confronts the cheerfully unrepentant hippie more than three decades later in an attempt to move “Beyond This Place.” This instructive, English-lingo example of personal filmmaking is deserving of fest exposure, though homevid seems a more logical eventual destination.
Proud of a life devoted to “meditation, psychedelics and cycling,” Gordon La Belle, son of pro wrestler Pierre, embraced the hippie lifestyle wholeheartedly by moving to Maui, changing his name to “Cloud Rock” and, some 34 years ago, fathering a boy he and wife Marjorie proudly named “Ganja.”
Abandoning the family three years later for Portland, Ore., Cloud Rock readily admits spending the better part of four decades stoned: “My life is not about disappointing a child; it’s about becoming a man. I love my freedom,” he tells his son, Swiss-based helmer Kaleo La Belle (who had the good sense to change his first name), as the pair bike toward Spirit Lake at the foot of Mount St. Helens.
As they rest between legs, Cloud Rock deflects his son’s measured questioning with all manner of karmic claptrap, delivered with a grin both insouciant and vaguely defensive. “Guilt is impossible,” he declares, urging his son to “master the mushroom” and assuring him, “The more you understand me, the more you forgive me. … I love you, even if you are straight.”
To his dubious credit, the elder La Belle is vouched for by former commune mates, one of whom describes Dad as “a really good guy … not a normal human.” Mom Marj, snowbound in Detroit, tried to shield her son from drugs, and even now tells Kaleo that she doesn’t know what’s in his father’s mind. Most troubling of all the film’s participants is Kaleo’s homeless half-brother, Starbuck, who wanders Maui streets in a heartbreaking daze that may or may not be the result of doing drugs with his dad.
Pic’s abiding strength is the helmer’s patience, which runs deep as the timber-strewn lake in front of which father and son eventually pose. “What is this fucking love I feel for Cloud Rock?” he asks in voiceover with rueful wonder, and it’s a question that cuts to the heart of the familial ties that bind over time, distance and temperament.
Tech credits are crisp, highlighted by the helmer’s fluid photography by 10-speed and helicopter, as well as tunes by indie hero Raymond Byron Magic Raposa and childhood chum Sufjan Stevens, the subject of the director’s 2005 docu “Crooked River.”