Austin Film Festival 2015: ‘Mully’ is a standout documentary

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Scott Haze, director of "Mully."
Scott Haze, director of "Mully."

Scott Haze, director of “Mully.”

Actor, director and playwright Scott Haze, who grew up in Austin, returns to town on Sunday for the premiere of his new documentary, “Mully,” and it’s an amazing story.

Charles Mully was abandoned by his parents at the age of 6 in a rural area of Kenya, supposedly in the custody of his uncle but actually with no help at all. So he made his way to the capital of Nairobi, where he became a child of the slums, a beggar, albeit a bright one.

After years on the streets, he began to get an idea. He could start a business to get people from one part of town to the other. And eventually he earned enough money to buy a vehicle, then another, then another, and after years of work, he became a prosperous businessman.

But his life took a dramatic turn one day when he parked his car and was accosted by beggars. He refused to help them and told them to get a job. And when he came back to his parking spot, the car was gone. And he began to think: Why had he turned them down? Why did he not try to help them rather than dismiss them as beggars, when he had been one, too. He saw something in one of the young men’s eyes, and he was haunted.

So after much contemplation, he made a decision that most people thought was crazy. He was going to sell off everything that he had built up. And he was going to use the proceeds to try to save some of the thousands of abandoned children in Nairobi, one by one.

His family, which included a wife and several children by this point, was not amused. They were accustomed to a comfortable life. And they saw their home becoming a big dormitory for children that Mully brought home. But Mully persisted, and today, he runs a huge children’s home that’s self-sustaining, and 10,000 young Kenyans call him dad. He gives the kids a safe home, sends them to school and turns their lives around, doing what no one ever did for him.

There’s a strong religious overtone to this, with multiple references to God, but there’s no clear religious affiliation. Mully simply has faith that charity is his duty.

Haze found out about Mully’s story a couple of years ago, through executive producer John Bardis, who had seen footage of the still-in-the-works documentary “Ghost & Goblins,” which focuses on the life of former Olympic wrestler Lee Kemp. Haze says he was amazed by the story and met Mully in San Jose, Calif., for a day, where the two spent hours talking. Mully decided that Haze would be a good candidate to tell his story, and Haze and his team went to Kenya over the holidays two years ago. They would return again to film more footage, and the result is going to be seen on the big screen Sunday.

Although best known as an actor and an associate of James Franco in adaptations of William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy novels, Haze has a knack for directing.

To tell the story of Mully as a child, Haze uses a young actor to portray the subject through re-enactments. And while Haze says he normally wouldn’t do re-enactments, he wanted to follow the advice of Tupac, to “make people feel you before they hear you.” And he wanted people to see how Mully felt when being abandoned, and the profound effect that had on his life, just as it has had on thousands of abandoned children in Kenya.

The rest of the documentary, remarkably, features interviews with Mully’s parents, who left him many years ago and are still rationalizing their actions, as well as the initially bewildered members of Mully’s immediate family.

Haze says he’s glad to be having the premiere in Austin, since he considers it his second home, although he spends most of his time in Los Angeles, pursuing numerous theater and film projects. He attended Austin Community College before leaving for acting school in Los Angeles. And his roommate in Austin was Jim Parrack, the actor and director who played Hoyt Fortenberry on HBO’s “True Blood.”

Mully has its premiere at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Paramount Theatre. It’s worth your time.

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