Chicago-based filmmaker Justin Leyba was a mere 17-years-old when he created the deeply touching short film The Old Man and the Lion, an 11-minute short that doesn't go quite where you expect it to go in telling a father/son story that feels both familiar and unique unto itself.
In this case, the father (Jamey McDunn) has the aura of a Mickey Rooney when he shows up at the door of his son (Carter Burch), a young man who is obviously caught off guard by his father's arrival yet and clearly not pleased by it. The two do the sort of surface father/son chatter that has been done countless times before, yet there's an obvious agenda and Leyba does a terrific job of pacing the film without ever revealing himself too quickly or too slowly.
It likely helps that he has a terrific cast to work with, though their initial vast differences in personality is a bit off-putting with McDunn's almost histrionic enthusiasm a marked contrast to Burch's more subdued and guarded persona. As the story unfolds, their differences are slowly revealed if not exactly explained and everything feels just about right.
Burch, in particular, is quite effective here as the young man whose distance is so authentic it's almost painful to watch. The film also winds down with a particularly effective scene involving delightful performances by young Blake Buczwieckz, Holly Houk and Derek Dean.
The recently completed The Old Man and the Lion is currently being submitted to film festivals, and the film should be able to find some solid acceptance in indie and underground film festivals along with those festivals targeting youth/young adult filmmakers.