L. to r. Chef Larry Lang, Chuck Brennan, owner of Baslands Speedway, and Paul Stanley of KISS
When the Silver State Film Festival comes to the Orleans on Saturday night, September 7, it will have as one of its highlights the documentary that at the 2019 Festival of Cinema in New York City ran rings around the competition -- onion rings.
THE RINGMASTER by Las Vegas resident and documentary creator, 32-year-old Zachary Capp, and which just won Best Documentary at that NYC film festival, tells the story of Larry Lang, a beloved chef in his town of Worthington, Minnesota, and known for making the best onion rings in America (as verified by food critic Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post). But in the process of Capp’s four years of filming, it became a story within a story, including the elements of a former gambling addict, the legendary band KISS, and Piero’s Italian Restaurant in Las Vegas. Critics have described the documentary as poignant, funny and heartbreaking all at the same time.
“My mom grew up in Round Lake, MN, and I have family in southwest Minnesota,” explains Capp. “There was a little five-star restaurant there called Michaels’ Steakhouse, owned by the Lang family, and people would come from all over for the onion rings. What makes them so good is a secret family recipe involving the batter. Larry’s father created the recipe 70 years ago in 1949. The onion rings are light, different shapes, and not too thick.”
“In 2015, I was a gambling addict who went into rehab,” he continues, “Right after my rehabilitation, my grandfather died and left me an inheritance. He had told me all my life that I should be a filmmaker. I decided to film Larry Lang because so many people wanted me to tell his story. So the story within a story is really all about me, a recovering gambling addict, and what I went though trying to make the documentary and these onion rings world-famous.”
Capp reveals that the film within a film happened because he broke the cardinal rule of filmmaking – he became close to both Larry and Larry’s sister because he wanted so badly to make things happen for Larry and his onion rings.
“It was really my crew that turned the cameras on me because they thought what was happening behind the scenes was more compelling,” Capp admits. “A documentary maker should be a fly on the wall but, in this case, I inserted myself into the story. It’s a pretty unique thing to have two stories being told about the same thing in the same film. It’s a very honest film. I had to come to terms with the fact that I had to be vulnerable and transparent and Larry is so shy that his life was turned upside down by it. I started out as the director/producer but in the end, the film was directed by Molly Dworsky and Dave Newberg.”
At the end of the movie, which Capp calls large in scale, there is a high-stakes onion ring tasting at Piero’s Italian Restaurant. Lang took his first plane ride to Las Vegas (and only the second plane ride of his life) to be there for it. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS are also featured in the film and speak in it, being big fans of the onion rings. KISS is part owner of a racetrack in South Dakota called Badlands Speedway and they told Capp that if they liked the onion rings, they would sell them at the track. And they are doing just that.
Sadly, during the course of filming the documentary, Larry Lang developed Alzheimer’s and his sister has become his caregiver, which will also be seen in the film. Capp plans to donate proceeds from the documentary to neurological disease research. The film will move on to the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival in Chagrin, Ohio, October 4-5 and go on to the nationwide festival circuit from there. Capp, Dworsky, and Newberg are also planning a screening in Larry’s hometown later this year and all ticket sales will benefit the Lang family.
Like an onion, THE RINGMASTER has many layers. You’ll laugh, you’ll be moved, and as an onion is wont to do, peeling back the layers will also make you cry.