Physics-captivated scholar turned filmmaker Geoff Marslett (“Mars”) will head to the Annecy Film Festival to premiere animated feature “Quantum Cowboys,” the first installment of what’s set to be a trilogy. The film’s ensemble cast includes Lily Gladstone, who stars in the upcoming Martin Scorsese film “Killers of the Flower Moon,” and David Arquette.

The film, which competes in the Contrechamps strand, is a captivating out West fever dream that takes place across a surreal frontier. A patchwork tapestry of time and space, it follows the ill-fated duo Frank (Kiowa Gordon) and Bruno (John Way) on an inter-dimensional search for redemption along infinite timelines.

A technical and curious sojourn

An ambitious collaboration, characters are conceived in 8K and 16MM live-action and across 12 different animation techniques that include stop-motion animation, hand-drawn digital rotoscoping, acrylic paintings combined with live-action characters, digital collage, CGI 3D animation, and hand-drawn traditional 2D animation.

The scenes that advance the plot through saloons, prairies and solemn deserts were crafted by artists from Swerve Pictures, Minnow Mountain, Artless Media and Mystery Meat Media.

“The animators who actually do this work, those are people that spent two straight years working with me on this film. Drawing every one of these frames, they gave me their own personal art styles. We didn’t go for a homogenized look in the animation. Each of them had a thing they did and they were cast much like actors,” Marslett says.

Written by Marslett and Howe Gelb, the film fuses quantum physics and Americana with a heady journey, while toying with our understanding of reality.

“Reality isn’t just something hard-fixed that exists; reality is something different for each individual. Every animal, every person, goes through life having to interpret it themselves and they have their own memories. Each of those sets of memories creates its own reality. That is, for that individual, the true reality. None of us can really experience someone else’s true reality, but we try to communicate that with each other,” Marslett says.

Produced by Fit Via Vi (“Cryptozoo”), which is also handling sales, and Swerve Pictures, the film stays true to Marslett’s appreciation of place, centering on Arizona, with each involved animation technique. The landscape can be seen as swirled blue skies against mauve desert scenery by way of oil painting and in electric neon hues as the protagonists traverse the terrain and Frank eats from psychedelic cacti.

“I want people to feel a little bit of what it’s like to be in Arizona. The experience of two people doing something is different because of that space they’re sitting in. This movie’s very much about sitting in that space of Arizona. I think there’s more difference in sitting where I am in Ithaca, New York now, and sitting in Tucson, Arizona, than sitting in Tucson, Arizona in 1973 or 1873, that space pulls those time periods together,” Marslett explains.

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Quantum Cowboys Courtesy of Swerve Pictures
A standout cast that delivers

Marslett says he was fortunate with his casting, and had Gladstone (“Certain Women”) in mind for the role of the lead character, Linde, from the start.

The narrative quickly introduces the protagonist, who, exhibiting a tempered wisdom, performs the role of a sensible, charismatic leader with ease.

Gladstone says: “It’s an unconventional Western, anyway, but that formula of two guys and a girl? I really liked that. I don’t think a lot of women get an opportunity, with a character, to be the brains of the operation. Just to be there and not really have gender be a thing.”

When speaking about what drew her to the project, Gladstone states: “I loved just how diverse one story can be. I’ve never seen something that’s such an elevated scientific concept explored in such a fun, accessible way that also has such a keen commentary on post-colonialism.”

She goes on: “To have the opportunity to have that post-colonial conversation as an indigenous person within this kind of genre is so unique, you don’t see it much.”

Gladstone also discussed the challenges and rewards of working on “Quantum Cowboys.”

“I think a lot of actors tend to want to have a very clean narrative, a very clean track and have everything all figured out. I knew that wasn’t possible because I knew there was a lot to come. That was a challenge for me because you’re creating a character that does have an arc, but has an arc in 12 different multiverses. Each version of that character is slightly different.”

“Just trusting the process, trusting the story and trusting your intuition and instincts about things is a very hard thing for all of us to do, but I think we got a pretty big payoff,” she says.
Rounding out the ensemble are Arquette and Frank Mosley as the divinely sinister duo of cross-time swindlers Colfax and Depew, as well as Gary Farmer (Calvin), Alex Cox (Fr. John Kino), the late Anna Karina (Inspiration), and Broadway luminary Patrick Page (Memory), who ties all existential themes together as narrator.

Musicians Neko Case (Alice), John Doe (John The Gunslinger) and Gelb (Blacky) are also featured; their performances of songs written by Gelb make up a majority of the soundtrack.

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Geoff Marslett, Lily Gladstone credits: Lauren Modery/Rick Rose