Last night Lost in the Fog showed at the Saratoga Film Forum in its first non-film festival engagement. Fresh off receiving the audience award for best documentary at the 2008 CineVegas film festival, the film played to a nice-sized audience, some members of which were racing fans and some of whom, it seemed, had never heard of Lost in the Fog.
The film opens with a voiceover narrative of the story of Poseidon, god of the sea, and Demeter, goddess of the harvest. As the movie tells it, as an indicator of his love for her, Poseidon created a horse for Demeter, but he loved it so much he kept it for himself. (A little research yielded a less savory version of this myth.)
The film follows Lost in the Fog and his connections, owner Harry Aleo and trainer Greg Gilchrist, from the colt’s purchase to his death from cancer in September of 2006. Former television producer John Corey, the film’s director, doesn’t attempt to make the Fog a real character in the movie; there’s little anthropomorphizing, and while the video footage of his races is as breathtaking as they were in person, the real stars of the show are Aleo and Gilchrist.
Corey knew of Aleo before he knew of Lost in the Fog; he grew up and lived in Noe Valley, the same San Francisco neighborhood in which Aleo’s Twin Peaks real estate office is located, and having long wanted to do a story on the owner of the throw-back storefront (photos of Ronald Reagan in the window, hand-written signs mocking the “Loony Valley” residents), Corey found his hook when reading about Lost in the Fog in February of 2005.
The focus of the movie is Aleo’s joy in his horse’s accomplishments; he’d been in the racing game for a while, racing horses in Northern California, and late in his life, the once-in-a-lifetime horse appeared, changing his and Gilchrist’s life. Within a few months of Lost in the Fog’s first race, horse, owner, and trainer were traversing the country, picking out races, fielding six-figure offers for the colt, and fending off questions about whether the horse would go in the Triple Crown. Gilchrist admits in the movie that if it had been his horse, he’d have sold him; it would have been the financially responsible thing to do, and it’s what he advised Aleo to do, while at the same time desperately hoping that the colt would stay in his barn.
The climax of the film, much to the delight of the local viewers, is the King’s Bishop at Saratoga; Aleo called it “our Kentucky Derby” and spoke with awe of racing in “this storied place.” His excitement when his colt wins his first—and only–Grade I represents the emotional center of the film.
Unfortunately, we know how the story ends, and Corey happened to be filming an interview with Aleo when the call came with the colt’s diagnosis. The movie resists delving into maudlin sentimentality, and in fact ends with Aleo watching another of his horses eke out a victory in Northern California. Groaning, he puts his head on the table and says, “I can’t take this anymore,” but we know that he can; if we learn nothing else about Aleo, we learn that he was one of racing’s purest fans. He resisted millions of dollars to sell his colt and the lure of the Kentucky Derby to do what was best for his horse. Like Poseidon, he loved the horse so much he decided to keep it.
My brief interview with the film’s director is here.