Deep in the fog-bound woods of the Southern Oregon wilderness, global histories and transnational economies intersect. Both allies and enemies from Southeast Asian wars come together here for the matsutake harvest—a 60-day race to find as many high-priced mushrooms as possible– before the harsh winter snows ensue and matsutake season ends. Reminiscent of Thai refugee camps of the 1970s and 80s, the hunters prop up a tent city in the middle of the woods. Mushroom Camp, as it’s called, is a bustling frontier world where stories of spirits in the forest are shared over campfires and steaming bowls of pho (noodle soup); where Lao karaoke blasts from makeshift restaurants late into the night; and, where the matsutake bounties of each day are bought and sold, packaged and shipped off from the Oregon woods all the way to Japan. It’s a gamble though. While no longer at their peak price of $600/lbs as it was in the ‘90s, the tumult of international trade means that matsutake prices can jump from $18/lbs to $46/lbs in a matter of hours and back down to $9/lbs by the next day. From this unexpected forest world, THE LAST SEASON explores the legacy of the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge, telling a story of a migrant community at the whims of the global economy.
Our mushroom hunters’ lives unfold the course of the 2011 matsutake season – the worst drought season in decades. Kouy, a Cambodian refugee and expert matsutake hunter, tends to his adopted father, Roger—an American sniper in the Vietnam War—now suffering from crippling emphysema and violent flashbacks. Roger, who once trained Cambodian and Laotian forces to fight the North Vietnamese, is now in the last months of his life. The two met in Mushroom Camp over a decade ago and formed an unexpected bond that led to Kouy’s adoption into Roger’s family. While they remained tight-lipped in each other’s presence, Kouy and Roger’s respective histories of war haunt them each day. Kouy, who stepped on a landmine while fleeing Khmer Rouge, walks miles in the forest with a prosthetic left leg; and Roger, who just barely survived a firefight in Laos’ jungle, still has shrapnel lodged in his arm. “We’re both made of metal,” Kouy half-jokes. “Like father, like son.”
Through the Mushroom Camp microcosm, the intertwined political histories of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and America emerge. Tenuous allies in Southeast Asian wars now become family, competitors and friends in the mushroom forest. Together, they labor off the grid. Like the extensive roots of mushrooms (mycelia) that connect up the diverse ecology, our hunters are linked through global political and economic webs. THE LAST SEASON weaves a story of regeneration and interconnection from an arcane woodland realm.
Official Selection – 2014 San Francisco International Film Festival
Official Selection – 2014 Mountainfilm Festival
Official Selection – 2014 Hot Docs