In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king

A three-part documentary gives viewers an insider’s view of the multi-million dollar enterprise known as the Texas Renaissance Festival or Ren Faire as it’s affectionately known to its adherents.

Lance Oppenheim directs Ren Faire with a flair for backstage drama. Oppenheim’s first doc Some Kind of Heaven, about a retirement community in Florida, was a worthy filmmaking debut.

A renaissance fair is like the original cosplay convention. The cool factor is higher with dressing up in medieval garb than, say, a Furries convention.

(On a personal note, I am not what you would call a member of the Renaissance Faire community but I do know people who are and they are quite normal. I have attended the Texas Renaissance Faire once in my life and it was a lot of fun but there’s one road going in. The ride from Central Houston is like 40-minutes and then the bumper-to-bumper traffic for the last mile takes another 40-minutes.)

Ren Faire focuses on top management of the Texas Renaissance Festival including the elderly owner “King” George Coulam who is eccentric to say the least. Coulam wears medals on his shirt that also has epaulettes decorated with stars. One sequence shows him meeting a potential date at an Olive Garden. He’s 85, she’s 24.

Other players include Jeff Balwin as the festival’s general manager. Balwin’s been working for the company for over four decades, or his entire adult life. There’s also festival vendors Louie Migliaccio and Darla Smith who both play an increasing part in the story.

The main gist revolves whether Coulam will sell (the asking price is in the $60M range) as well as which of the other characters will ascend to the throne.

Some reviewers compared the episodes to the show Succession, and I wouldn’t know about that because I never watched Succession. Ren Faire reminded me of the kind of docs made by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky in the 1990s. The audience is slowly but firmly allowed into the mindset of all the characters and their motives mixed with a glimpse into their social surroundings.

Ren Faire streams on HBO in starting Sunday, June 2.

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