First off, what an attractive poster. Especially for anyone who is a fan of the noir and western genre. The premiere for The Bagman Died First was held at the annual Prairie Lights Film Festival in October of 2017. This means that the neo-western proved worthy of an official selection. And for Nebraska, next to the Omaha Film Festival, Prairie Lights understands the importance of filmmaking and support in the local community. Without these festivals, great accomplishments like The Bagman Died First wouldn’t be shown to a wider audience.
The short film was shot in Valparaiso, Nebraska with a cast of Nebraskan natives, according to Prairie Lights. Michael Johnson (Black Lines) wrote and directed the film. We are treated to a stunning cold open, with a rich environment to submerge yourself into; a tense, isolated prairie field. From the start we are entangled in the mystery of past events of, what looks to have been, a tense shootout.
Andrew Prescott (Endor, Backwash) and Rodrigo Carballo star as the two surviving rival gang members in the aftermath of gunfire. Johnson wastes no time in developing these characters, as the greatest portion of the film comes from the interactions between the two of them. The actors perform superbly and the chemistry feels authentic.
Another excellent characteristic of this film: it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. When discussing local and low-budget filmmaking, projects often stretch beyond their reach to hit a desired feature-length time. The Bagman is an achievable 15 minutes that a general audience can spare. What Johnson accomplishes with this short proves that sometimes the running time has an indirect relationship with quality.
Overall, The Bagman Died First deserves praise for being among some of the best films to come from Nebraska. Deservedly, this film was my top pick at Prairie Lights this year. As a resident, I can’t wait to see what else Michael Johnson has in store for our community.