It is not often that I engage in a bit of nepotism on this blog, so I hope that the reader will indulge me in allowing me to say how much I enjoyed watching my youngest brother’s new short firm, “New Territory” this weekend. It was shown on the big screen at the historic Allen Theatre near my home town, and has been submitted for consideration to a number of film festivals around the country. If you have the opportunity to see it, I believe you will find as I did that its combination of nostalgic introspection and stark realism is compelling, beautiful to look at, and thought-provoking.
My brother’s film was based on a short story by our father, and features costume design by our sister, and thus is a real family affair. Shot in the pastoral Southern Pennsylvania countryside where we grew up, the film captures the experiences of three young children playing in the fields and woods of this bucolic part of the world. As part of their play, a violent event occurs which I will not describe in this review, but which has a dramatic impact on all three of the characters. The viewer comes away realizing that this is a watershed moment, in the type of coming-of-age experience which marks the beginning of the transition from childhood to adulthood, which will have an impact on each of them as individuals, and also in their relationships with one another.
It is always a bit difficult to look at the work of someone you love with a critical eye, for you cannot help but have a deeper understanding of and sympathy for what that person is trying to do. That being said, in all of his films my brother has exhibited a very palpable sense of both place and light that makes viewing his work an engrossing experience. For example, in one scene in “New Territory” he captures pools of light breaking through an overhead canopy of branches and creating illuminated patches on a forest floor, juxtaposing this with the flow of water over pebbles in a stream, which reflect and shine in much the same way. His attention to detail and craftsmanship succeeds in making the viewer feel the heat of the sun out in the pasture, or the coolness of dirt being dug under the trees.
As he mentioned before the movie was screened, my brother broke several of the cardinal rules of cinema in making this film. He worked with child actors for a start, who had a bit of acting experience in commercials or local theatre, and yet were still somewhat raw, unaffected performers; he also, as it happens, worked with animals. The use of the just-starting-out actors in particular, none of whom give off that cloyingly saccharine “show kids” vibe one gets on programs like “Toddlers and Tiaras” or “American Idol”, brings an authenticity to the film which more experienced actors would have been unable to evoke. It adds to the realism of the piece, even as the camera lingers over details of the landscape in a dreamy way.
Moreover because the speaking roles in the film are of the somewhat taciturn variety, the camera does much of the work in telling the story, as it captures the expressions on the faces of the children as events unfold. We are thereby allowed to read what our own thoughts would be, if we were placed in the same set of circumstances as they are. We may find ourselves identifying with each of the three characters in turn, as we remember moments when we behaved or reacted in the same way as they do.
Suffice to say, I am very proud of my brother’s achievement in this piece, and I will be sure to inform my followers if it will be showing at a location near you in the coming weeks and months.