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Friend’s drag-racing death inspires young filmmaker

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I am hardly a student of filmmaking. But like most people, I believe I know quality when I see it. And in my humble opinion, if Mike Krumlauf’s documentary, “A Place to Call his Own,” is anything like the trailer, this young Naperville man has a promising career ahead.

But this column is not so much about Krumlauf’s talents as it is his heart.

The 21-year-old Naperville North grad lost his best friend in May of 2012 when the souped-up Toyota Corolla Matt McMahon was driving struck a light pole near the Northern Illinois University campus on Diehl Road.

McMahon had been street racing at the time against 21-year-old Yair Lopez-Laviano, who’s been charged in connection to the death but has yet to be found and arrested. Of course, after stories about this unnecessary tragedy hit, those hurtful, and usually anonymous, comments followed.

Krumlauf remembers being in a Starbucks when a man saw the headlines about a candlelight vigil for his friend, and literally “snarled” at the story, minimizing the victim’s life as if it were as senseless as his death.

Telling the world — at least the world located around our Fox Valley zip codes — about the heart and soul of Matt McMahon was the force behind “A Place to Call His Own,” which was selected to be shown at the Naperville Independent Film Festival Sept. 14.

Krumlauf’s goal: to highlight the extraordinarily full life of this young man who was even more passionate about people than he was about cars.

“He was my brother, my best friend,” Krumlauf says in the trailer, then goes on to describe Matt McMahon as a giving, selfless individual who “impacted everyone he knew.”

Like all well-done trailers, this one left me wanting to learn more, not just about the kind of person McMahon was, but also about how young friendships form, how they sustain and flourish, and how a death that comes too soon impacts so many others. Life may end but friendships never die reads the film’s tagline.

“It’s impossible,” insists Matt McMahon’s aunt Eileen Sanaghan, “to watch this and not be moved.”

Lessons to be learned

Krumlauf says when he was visiting the site of his friend’s death on the one-year anniversary in May, a Naperville policeman stopped to ask what he was doing. When the officer heard about the documentary, he suggested the young filmmaker include a message in it about the dangers of street racing.

And so he did. But the documentary, Krumlauf added, also raises the issue of what we are all guilty of doing: Judging a book only by its cover.

“Matt loved fast cars. He loved tattoos,” said Krumlauf. “He looked like some kind of tough guy. But he was the kindest, most gentle person you would ever want to meet.”

Krumlauf and McMahon became friends their sophomore years at Naperville North, two introverts who didn’t fit in with the other cliques. They traversed the perils of high school together and when they graduated in 2009, both began expanding their passions, trying to figure out how they’d make their mark in this world.

For Matt, it was cars. He loved tinkering with them and making them go fast.

For Krumlauf, it was film, something he tinkered with since age 9.

Krumlauf had a chance to go to film school but decided to learn on his own. So he lives at home and pays the bills converting old VHS tapes onto DVDs for customers. But his goal, he said, is narrative filmmaking focusing on teenage life, in the same vein as the late John Hughes.

“There are so many young voices,” he said, “that are not being heard.”

Check out the trailer to “A Place to Call His Own” at Not that I’ve seen the entire film. Nor am I an expert. But I believe Mike Krumlauf’s own voice has something special to say.

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