A unique hobby, growing older, losing friends and the great outdoors.
These are the themes of the documentary “The Mushroom Hunter,” directed by an area native, about a group of friends who have been mushroom hunting for more than 50 years. The film is scheduled to appear at the Indianapolis International Film Festival this weekend and next week.
Director Bill Torgerson, formerly of Winamac and Logansport, splits the 30-minute film between footage of the hunters sharing stories and outdoor scenes following them on a hunt in France Park. The film focuses on his father, Martin “Torg” Torgerson, along with his father’s hunting buddies, Casey Jones and Vic Heater, all to a score by Indianapolis-based musician Jeremy Vogt.
Now residing in New Canaan, Conn., Bill Torgerson is a professor in the Institute for Writing Studies at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. He said the idea for the film first came to him after being at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, where a screenplay he adapted from his debut novel, “Love on the Big Screen,” won the grand prize in the screenplay competition.
“I had never been to a film festival,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect. A lot of the short films, what made them great and interesting are the same things I like about literary fiction.”
Although he didn’t share the same awe his father and father’s friends hold for the hobby on the few hunts he accompanied them on while growing up, he said something clicked in his mind as far as creating a short film capturing their passion.
“If I could get these guys on camera hunting mushrooms, I think that would be enough to carry any film,” he remembered thinking when he first came up with the idea.
After acquiring the necessary equipment and taking a film editing class in New York City, Torgerson shot the film over Easter weekend in 2012.
The first part of the shoot consisted of gathering the three hunters at the home of one of their former hunting buddies, Bob March, who had passed away. What ensued was several hours of stories capturing the joy they experience while on a hunt and the grief associated with losing friends they used to share it with.
“I didn’t have to do very much,” he said. “I knew there were some basics I had to cover but I really felt the conversation would take off.”
As the conversation took off, it led him in the direction of the themes he would illustrate while following them on a hunt the next day, he continued.
“It’s sort of an intellectual challenge or problem — when are they going to start growing? Where are they?” he said of the questions going through mushroom hunters’ minds while out on a hunt. “It’s the same reason guys like to play golf or go for hikes. [The film] is in part the mushrooms, but also those guys getting out of the house and being together and to keep moving around in their 70s.”
Bill Torgerson went on to say the sadness that emerged when the men spoke of fellow hunters who had passed away over the years, like March and another named Kenny Hattery, was something that surprised him.
“The degree to which they talked about those guys, you could watch them start to reflect on growing older and knowing that every year might be the last year they’re physically able to hunt,” he said.
“They’re pretty stoic, not-share-their-feelings guys, so that was a little bit of a surprise. I think it has a lot do do with knowing time with best friends could not be that much longer or the thing you love to do with your friends is coming to an end.”
Before Winamac resident Martin “Torg” Torgerson went on to have a teaching career in Logansport, Caston and Winamac and at Indiana University-Kokomo, he collected his first batch of mushrooms in the 1950s while in his early teens, he recalled fondly.
“I just really enjoy the great outdoors,” he said. “It’s one way to enjoy the woods and the fields and Mother Nature at its fullest. That’s really the big appeal. Plus, searching for something that is somewhat elusive and somewhat hard to find is pretty challenging and I enjoy a challenge.”
As he got older, he began taking the hobby more seriously, embarking on hunts more often and travelling farther to do it. Along with Indiana, he has hunted woods and parks in Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, even going alone when his friends are unable to accompany him. Sometimes returning with bounties of 50 pounds, he would use the mushrooms for cooking and give them out to family and friends.
Hunts have decreased now that he’s 75, he said, and so has the amount of mushrooms he’s been able to find because of what he deduces may be rising demand for mushrooms and increased participation in the hobby.
“I still have fun hunting mushrooms whether I find many or not,” he said.
He called the hobby a good complement to his exercise routine of jogging, running and walking.
“It helps promote good health and plus it gets me in condition to still hunt mushrooms,” he said. “I think it’s helped my health throughout these many years.”
Martin said he was “surprised and impressed” to be a part of the film.
“I’m pleased too because now I have a permanent record of a mushroom hunt,” he said. “I feel pretty much honored and privileged to have a film about me and my buddies hunting mushrooms. I’ll be able to watch it any time I want, see my friends and think about old positive memories.”
The film is scheduled to screen at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and 4:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 4000 Michigan Road, Indianapolis. Now in its 10th year, the festival features films from all over the U.S. and from more than 50 countries across the world.
If you go: WHAT: "The Mushroom Hunter" screening at the Indianapolis International Film Festival WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Saturday and 4:15 p.m. Wednesday WHERE: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 4000 Michigan Road, Indianapolis WHY: The film features locals Bill Torgerson, Martin Torgerson, Vic Heater and Casey Jones