This weekend I volunteered at and attended my first film festival, The Big Bear Lake International Film Festival. It was a wonderful introductory experience to the world of film festivals where I got to volunteer at a venue, see a few films, and meet many filmmakers and film fans like myself. Sometimes working in “the industry” it is easy to forget the passion and spirit of the independent film community who struggle to make the films they want to make with little money or support. It was inspiring to see so many people making movies just because they love it and they have a story to tell; it gave me a renewed sense of purpose for what I want to do with my own career.
One film that inspired me in particular was the centerpiece film of the festival Beside Still Waters, the directorial debut of Chris Lowell of Veronica Mars fame (I know him as Dell from Private Practice). I knew I was going to love this film even before I saw it because I love friends-going-to-lake-houses-and-dealing-with-relationship-issues films (see my love for both Drinking Buddies and most recently, Your Sister’s Sister). These films always start out with a simple and innocent premise of vacationing and recalling childhood memories before turning darker and delving into the real reasons why all the characters are there and the problems between them. This time it is Daniel (a captivating Ryan Eggold) inviting his childhood friends to his lake house as a goodbye party for the house they all loved so much growing up. His friends include married couple Martin and Abby (Will Brill and Erin Darke), free spirit Charley (Jessy Hodges), reality TV star James (Brett Dalton), funny man Tom (Beck Bennett), and Daniel’s former girlfriend Olivia (Britt Lower)…who brings along her new fiance Henry (Reid Scott). Besides knowing (and loving) Brett Dalton from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. the cast was full of relative unknowns for me. It was one of those rare films where I wasn’t sitting there wondering if I knew anybody from something else and I could be completely captivated by the story and the believability of the characters. The chemistry of the cast struck me from the very beginning; it is easy to believe these people are childhood friends with their rapport.
Most of this realness comes not only from the way the characters interact, but also the script written by Lowell and his friend Mohit Narang, who actually attended the Big Bear Film Festival and was incredibly nice and answered every question asked of him, even from us lowly volunteers. The script is one of those I respect so much for representing the way people, particularly old friends, actually talk. They make dirty jokes. They’re sometimes downright mean to one another. They tell stories that the others have heard a thousand times before. Most importantly they are deeply flawed people who love each despite of and because of these flaws.
I cannot say enough about the performances of this film. Eggold is outstanding; Daniel is equal parts pathetic, loveable, and heartbreaking. Out of everyone in the film, I could relate to his character the most-the romantic who doesn’t want to let go of the nostalgia of the past. And Dalton, who is one of my many Marvel fangirl crushes surprised me in ways I never thought he could. His performance in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been one of the strongest on the show, but I never knew he had all this in him. It makes me excited to see him grow as an actor even further. The rest of the cast fills in well, each rounding out a strong cast with characters full of their own struggles. No one falls into a stereotype, they are all well rounded real people you feel like you could know or have known in your own life. I particularly liked the portrayal of Martin and Abby as a young married couple trying to figure it all out.
Beside Still Waters is being released in theaters November 14th and everyone should go out and support this amazing film. It’s laugh out loud funny, sad, and mostly raw and real. You may have never had a lake house you visited with your friends, but this film will still resonate and make you nostalgic for days gone by and friends missed.
- This film is dedicated: “To the dreamers. And all the parents gone too soon…which is every parent.” Which makes me cry.
- During the Q&A for the film Narang said he and Lowell both wrote their own scripts and then combined them to make the final screenplay. He said that both of their scripts had very similar scenes, down to matching dialogue…without them having ever discussed it.
- The film also includes some super 8 footage and Lowell’s black and white photography, both of which are used with great effect. Also, they look damn pretty.
- This film has one of the best “let’s talk about what happened last night while we were all drunk out of our minds” scenes I’ve ever seen.
Film Festival Wrap Up:
- My favorite film I saw at the festival was Split Gas (dir. Jacques Edeline) which also won the audience award for best feature. See it somehow if you can. Also, the soundtrack is awesome and the filmmakers/actors are some of the nicest people I met at the festival.
- Shorts Bis Gleich (dir. Benjamin Wolff) and Glinda (dir. Nicole Cosgrove) both made me cry out of happiness and sadness.
- The documentary My Shanghai (dir. P.H. Wells) was an incredibly interesting look at a woman imprisoned by the Japanese in China during WWII, something I didn’t even know happened despite my interest in the second World War. Also, the story is narrated by the woman who went through it all, now age 92.