a sense of place
Filmmaker takes his latest on a tour of the region that inspires him
For Jay Craven, cinema is personal.
This is why he is focusing his efforts on marketing his latest film, Northern Borders, which was filmed in Vermont and southern New Hampshire, to New England audiences first. Craven will be taking the film to a series of New Hampshire venues, starting today at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre and including a three-day run at Concord’s Red River Theatres from Aug. 21 to 24. Each screening will include an introduction and post-film discussion led by Craven.
“(My films) are really very much about place, and they are places that I know. These are places that I live,” Craven said. “I feel connected to place. So the idea of making movies for me is always about staying right here and showing that Hollywood does not have a monopoly on the stories that are worth telling on film.”
Filmed in 2012, this coming-of-age story stars Academy Award nominees Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Geneviève Bujold (Anne of a Thousand Days, King of Hearts) and Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick (Moonrise Kingdom and Before Midnight). The film also features 2010 Tony Award nominee Jessica Hecht (Sideways, Friends), John Shea, Jay O. Sanders, Mark Margolis, Tom Bodett, Rusty Dewees and John Rothman.
Based on the Howard Frank Mosher novel, the film is set in 1956 and tells the story of 10-year-old Austen Kittredge, who is sent to live on his grandparents’ Kingdom County, Vt., farm. Once there, Kittredge finds himself in another world, filled with wild adventures, “long-festering” family secrets and a cast of eccentrics.
Craven said he loved Mosher’s work – the two have worked together on several films – but that this story in particular struck a deep note.
“I was raised by my grandparents, so this had a particular resonance for me,” Craven said. “And it was my grandmother who introduced me to a love of film, so this was a very personal story to me. So I feel thrilled to be able to do it for that reason.”
Craven said when he first started visualizing the film, he immediately lit on a circa 1760s bed and breakfast in Marlboro, Vt., as the setting. Craven said that he lives in northern Vermont during the summer, but during the rest of the year, he teaches film at Marlboro College and stays at the inn.
“All of my films really start to form for me visually based on locations that I know,” he said. “I read the book, and immediately I thought this old inn would make a fabulous interior farmhouse location for this story. Because it suggests another world; it suggests some magical elements.”
The old dining room at the inn, for example, with its dark wood paneling, adds to the gloom the boy feels, particularly as it’s lit with candlelight. The main characters have yet to get electricity in the house.
“Also (there is) just this endless maze of bedrooms upstairs,” Craven said. “And you sort of wind around these halls. And so the idea of this kid kind of coming into this house, that just sort of goes on forever, also just really appealed to me. It’s like when I lived with my grandparents, I lived in a room with two twin beds and there’s this great, fabulous room in this place with two twin beds, and it really just spoke to me.”
A New Hampshire location was pivotal to the film, Craven said. The site, known as Madame Sherri’s Castle, is a pile of stone ruins of a mansion deep in the woods of Chesterfield.
“Imagine encountering this kind of place in the middle of the woods in southern New Hampshire,” Craven said. “Another fabulous location. So when I start reading the book, . . . I start thinking about, ‘Where are the places that can really create a distinctive world?’ Because part of what you want to try to do as a filmmaker is try to take viewers into another world that’s not their everyday world, but it’s still linked to the place where they live.”
Craven’s six feature films include Disappearances (2007, with Kris Kristofferson) and Where the Rivers Flow North (1994 with Rip Torn and Tantoo Cardinal). All of them have emphasized place, he said.
Craven said filming in Vermont and New Hampshire was very important to him. He said that when a typical Hollywood film comes to Vermont or New Hampshire, the setting quickly becomes a generic backdrop and sometimes stereotypes residents.
“My desire was to make the place in the foreground, not to make it a backdrop, but really make it a strong sort of muscular element of the story,” he said. “And to render characters that are rooted in this place and are distinctive and unlike characters you would run into in suburban New York or Los Angeles or the places we are used to seeing on film.”
Even the music is local. Soundtrack selections were provided by New Hampshire-based Great Meadows Music, written and performed by local musicians including the late Bob McQuilllen, Randy Miller, Laurie Andres, Cathy Whitesides and John Taggert.
Northern Borders was produced as the result of a unique partnership between Craven’s nonprofit Kingdom County Productions and Marlboro College. It was made during a semester-long, film-intensive program. In Movies from Marlboro, 20 young professionals worked with 34 students from 15 colleges.
Northern Borders will be screened tonight at 7:30 at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, and tickets are be available at the door. It will be shown tomorrow at 7:30 at the Henniker Community Center and Saturday at 7:30 at the Littleton Opera House. It plays in Concord from Aug. 21 to 24 at Red River Theatres; showtimes are 7 p.m., and Craven will be at the Aug. 21 show. For information about tickets, additional screenings and venues, go to kingdomcounty.org.