In 1927, Paramount Pictures released a map indicating various locations in California that could stand in for other regions in the world. Northern parts of the state were designated as stand-ins for New England and the East Coast. The map was drawn up for potential investors looking for production value for their films without traveling to shoot on-location.
Today, though, New England, and New Hampshire specifically, doesn’t need a stand-in. The Granite State’s film scene is thriving, and here on the Seacoast, local filmmakers have forged a strong community of actors, directors, writers, and film crews. Their efforts will be on display at the 2013 New Hampshire Film Festival, along with films from established Hollywood talent and indie filmmakers the world over.
“It’s amazing to see how many ties to this state are from the film industry. From a local perspective, we’ve also been told numerous times that we give filmmakers a reason to produce films with the hope of getting their work in front a live audience,” said Nicole Gregg, the festival’s executive director.
The list of New Hampshire filmmakers keeps growing. Writers, actors, and directors are working throughout the state, but there’s a particularly high concentration in the Seacoast. Many of these players still live in the Seacoast, while others have found success and moved out to larger markets, like New York or Los Angeles. But one thing they have in common is the shared experience of working in the region.
The festival runs from Oct. 17 to Oct. 20, with all-day events and screenings at The Music Hall, The Music Hall Loft, Discover Portsmouth Center and the Moffatt-Ladd House. Local films will share the weekend with top-billed features such as “Labor Day,” with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, and “Prince Avalanche,” starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch.
The festival will start on Thursday, Oct. 17, with a full day devoted to features and shorts with Granite State connections. The line-up includes short narrative films and documentaries like “Another Grace and Johnny Adventure: Zombie Island!,” “Ocean Boulevard,” “Pattie and Me Minus Patti” and “Tom Rush: No Regrets.” The evening will conclude with the New Hampshire Night awards ceremony.
Lars Trodson and Alfred Thomas Catalfo are long-time members of the Seacoast film scene. In 2006 Catalfo made national news with his short-film “The Norman Rockwell Code,” a spoof on “The DaVinci Code.” Catalfo, an attorney by day, has been writing feature screenplays for the last 15 years and also acts in and directs his films.
“I think that being a lawyer makes me a better filmmaker, and being a filmmaker makes me a better lawyer,” said Catalfo. This year Catalfo will bring two films to NHFF, “Slam Man” and an animated film, “Moonlight Bait and Ammo.”
Trodson still has his lanyard from the very first film festival in New Hampshire. At the time, it was called the New Hampshire Film Expo and was based in Derry. Trodson said the original intention of the festival was to travel to different towns and cities throughout the state. A part of the Seacoast film community since the mid-1990s, Trodson, along with photographer Ralph Morang, said he was part of the local film scene’s beginnings.
“I wouldn’t say we started it,” he said, “But we certainly were there near the beginning.” According to Trodson, there was buzz in the area for the burgeoning film scene, but the buzz slowed to a whir and almost disappeared had technology not saved it.
“Right around the beginning of the 2000s, technology started to change. Video cameras and sound equipment started to get more accessible,” said Trodson.
The technological impact helped to get the New Hampshire film scene active again, giving young and aspiring filmmakers outlets like NHFF and the 48-Hour Film Project to showcase their work and build community.
Because most filmmakers in the area work with a very low budget, they often lean on one another for help with acting, editing, directing, crew and sound.
“Not to say we’re not competitive even with each other,” said Catalfo. “But it’s a friendly competition, and we all help each other out.”
That’s evident in this year’s festival line-up. Cinematographer Jonathon Millman of Portsmouth worked on two films, “Jim and the Genie” and “Something in the Way.” Marc Dole, who directed “Moonlight Bait and Ammo” with Catalfo, also worked as editor on “Something in the Way.”
Recently, Trodson has stepped away from making feature films, citing the difficulty of pulling the films together. He’s an author and editor for The Block Island Times in Rhode Island. But there was one story, not his own, he felt must be told.
For this year’s NHFF, Trodson directed “Click” with photographer Deb Cram. The film is a recording of Cram’s monologue about surviving abuse. “Click,” he said, is one of the most powerful moments he’s been able to capture on film. He approached Cram after she first wrote her story for the Portsmouth Herald last year, working with her to develop it into a spoken-word performance at the Seacoast Repertory Theater. The film is a taped live performance of Cram sharing her experiences of growing up in an abusive home and its long-term psychological effects.
For some filmmakers, the festival is a chance to return home. Writer, director, and actress Sophia Savage grew up in Northwood and now lives in Los Angeles. Growing up in New Hampshire, Savage said, afforded her the time to experience the outdoors, which became a creative outlet for her imagination and influenced her filmmaking. “There was a lot of creating and playing and expanding my mind,” said Savage.
Savage’s film, “Empyrean,” is an autobiographical narrative film that tells the story of a father’s death from brain cancer and the effect it has on his family. Savage lost her own father to brain cancer. Working on the film became an outlet for her grief.
“It was both difficult and cathartic,” said Savage. “It was the only way I felt I was able to process the loss of my father and articulate what that experience was like.”
Other films put a Seacoast perspective on global concerns. Nancy Pollock’s documentary “Many Voices, One Song” follows the Portsmouth-based women’s chorus Voices from the Heart as they perform in the Balkans in 2007.
In the Croatian village of Perusic, the women see the lasting effect the wars of the 1990s had on the region. Active landmines still buried in the village have maimed or killed those living in the area, kept pets and children indoors, and prevented younger families from moving to the village. Croatia, Pollock said, has one of the 10 highest concentrations of landmines in the world. Voices of the Heart performs throughout the region to raise awareness and funding to remove many of the landmines. Pollock’s crew returned in 2011 to document what changes happened in the village in the four years since and what challenges still remain.
“What drew me to it was their love of music first,” said Pollock. “To me, it was that kind of intersection of these women who love music and use their music to make the world a better place.”
Pollock’s creative impulse is mirrored in the weekend gathering of like-minded filmmakers.
“We are extremely proud of our home state, of showcasing New Hampshire filmmakers, and we want to give them center stage while we bring the rest of the world here to their home,” said Gregg.
—Craig Robert Brown
The 13th annual New Hampshire Film Festival takes place in Portsmouth Oct. 17-20. Programming on Thursday, Oct. 17 at The Music Hall and The Music Hall Loft is devoted to films with a New Hampshire connection. For a complete schedule of films, panels, workshops, and events, and to purchase passes, visit nhfilmfestival.com.