WRIF: Back and Better Than Ever...
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
For the past several years, the White River Indie Festival (WRIF) – a weekend of interesting, entertaining and provocative independent films – has bounced around from venue to venue, reflecting the changing face of White River Junction itself. But this year, in a collaboration with Northern Stage, WRIF is moving its programming into the new Barrette Center for the Arts. The move promises to be a big step forward for WRIF, and a model for engagement and support in the performing arts community. As already seen in the very successful Mother’s Day screening of ‘Peter and John’ under the auspices of WRIF at the Barrette Center, the space provides an outstanding viewing experience for movie buffs, as well as excellent amenities and space for social engagement before and after the films – a critical component of any film festival experience.
The line-up of films at WRIF this year (see the entire schedule, as well as other information at www.wrif.org) is no less exciting than the move into the new space. From elegant full-length dramas and comedies to documentaries to shorts, WRIF has something for everyone. You can pick and choose throughout the weekend; or buy a Festival Pass and go movie crazy as I do at the Telluride Festival (where my ‘personal best’ for the three-and-a-half day festival is 18 films!). Regardless, you are in for some treats.
Kicking off WRIF is a wonderful film that embodies the ‘stretch’ that Festival represents this year: ‘Coming Through the Rye’. The WRIF organizers were gracious enough to allow me to see the film in advance so that I could write about it, and it is a classic of independent filmmaking. Written and directed by Jim Sadwith, a Woodstock based filmmaker, ‘Coming Through the Rye’ (‘Rye’) is a semi-autobiographical story about coming of age in the late 60’s. Told through the eyes of a young man, Jamie, who is obsessed with Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in J.D. Salinger’s seminal book ‘Catcher in the Rye’, ‘Rye’ is the story of Jamie’s obsessive search for Salinger himself to bless his script for a stage version of ‘Catcher’. Of course, the search for Salinger is largely a metaphor for Jamie’s search for himself, but the twists and turns in the hunt, and the discoveries along the way, are beautifully presented and emotionally powerful.
For those of us in the Upper Valley, the search for Salinger has a familiar ring. Salinger was a notorious recluse, living out his days in the Cornish, NH woods and zealously protected by the local residents. As most recently depicted in Shane Salerno’s book and documentary ‘Salinger’, the locals found great sport in misdirecting the acolytes who came in search of a glimpse of or a word with JD. And so the search for Salinger in ‘Rye’ has a very familiar ring to it, and one that Sadwith has captured with humor, but also with dignity. His tour of the back roads of the Upper Valley, as Jamie and his erstwhile companion, soon to be girlfriend, track down leads and meet the locals, is a beautiful travelogue of autumn in New England. His elegant vistas and languorous drives, all accompanied by beautifully quiet music, would assure another round of Salinger hunters – if the great author were not now deceased.
‘Rye’ benefits from an excellent cast, combining unheralded newcomers with seasoned film veterans. As Jamie, Alex Wolff is a perfect teenage geek, lost in the upperclass prep school world that does not understand him and therefore resents and bullies him to conform. With demons in the closet (not THAT closet) and a powerful intellect at work, Jamie refuses to give up on his dream. Supporting Jamie in his pilgrimage is a local ‘townie’ Jamie meets when his all-male school brings local girls in for theater productions. Of course, Jamie is obsessed with the comely blond in the group and not this bright, dark haired girl whose beauty is hidden by her plain clothes and plain talk. But this is a coming-of-age film, and so by the time Jamie and Deedee (Stefania Owen) reach the end of the trail, he has discovered that beauty is, in fact, not just skin deep. It is a lovely interaction of two young people discovering adulthood together, but separately, and one of the most engaging parts of the film.
In a cameo that was clearly made for just for him, Chris Cooper plays J.D. Salinger perfectly. From Salerno’s film, we get a very good sense of the ‘real’ Salinger and Cooper nails it – from the scowl to the limp to the exasperated anger about why people won’t just leave him, and his beloved characters, alone. Cooper could easily have hijacked the film, so good is he in the role and so much more experienced than his young fellow actors. But his – and Sadwith’s – sensitivity to the role demonstrates just why he is one of the best character actors working in film.
‘Coming Through the Rye’ will be a powerful kick-off to the new and improved White River Indie Festival, but it will by no means be the only great film of the weekend. For example, ‘Havana Motor Club’, about the emerging drag racing culture in Cuba as it re-enters the world at large, should be a classic documentary. Go to the WRIF website and scan the offerings – there will be many things for you to see! WRIF is a labor of love for many of your fellow Upper Valley film buffs, and it deserves your attention and your support.
And if you cannot get to Vermont this weekend, ‘Coming Through the Rye’ will be available for streaming and in select theaters in the near future. Put it on your list; and I will also advise my readers when and where it will be available!