This weekend the Destiny City Film Festival returns to Tacoma. In only its second year, the festival has already distinguished itself through its bold and varied programming, courtesy of founder Emily Alm. This years highlights include the comic two-hander NIGHT OWLS about a one-night-stand that turns into an all night baby-sitting task when someone take a few or twenty too many sleeping pills, and thriller UNCLE JOHN, featuring the most unlikely murderer ever and a very hipster-type love affair. On the documentary side, Destiny City really outdoes itself with BOUNCE: HOW THE BALL TAUGHT THE WORLD TO PLAY, which I am already on record calling “one of the most well-made and thought-provoking documentaries I’ve seen in the last year,” and a fascinating exposé on New Yorker cartoonists, VERY SEMI-SERIOUS.
Another highlight of the festival is Eastern-Washington-filmed thriller/drama WEST OF REDEMPTION, the story of a couple living on the outskirts of town who receive a visit from someone from their past. Billy Zane (Titanic, Twin Peaks) stars as Hank Keller, a brooding farmer who lives for his beautiful wife Becky (Mariana Klaveno – True Blood), a waitress in town. Their delicate relationship begins to crumble shortly after the visit from Rick Youngblood (Kevin Alejandro), a veteran, who Hank inexplicably knocks out and ties up in their barn. As the reasons behind this abduction slowly trickle out, it becomes clear that this mysterious stranger is far more tied to Hank and Becky’s past than Hank would like to admit.
“I’ve always loved stories about men who are in love with a woman they can’t have,” says Meagan Daine, screenwriter of West of Redemption, “so I imagined those two characters in that situation.” I had a chance to interview both Daine and director Cornelia Moore in preparation for their Destiny City Film Festival screening. Daine based the two male leads off a few men she knew with similar characteristics, and imagined what they would do facing off against each other. Moore responded to the heartbreak on the pages of Daine’s script immediately. “It wrenched my attention from the stack of scripts I have on my desk, some of them my own,” the director says, “ and I thought “This story is so beautiful that I have to make this one NOW!”
Part of what makes the film so compelling is the complete solitude of the setting, which sets the tone. No one is coming to help Youngblood, in fact, no one may drive down this road at all, which is what makes his arrival at the farmhouse so suspicious to Keller in the first place. “The story was always set in the west, in a desolate, isolated place,” say Daine, “Eastern Washington was perfect — beautifully cinematic, yet lonely.” Moore says the setting was chosen very carefully, “I had to have a dry farm with no life, no farm animals, very little color, to portray one of the relationships.” She was very specific and even strict about the detail to the art, wardrobe, and camera departments. The atmosphere and seclusion plays almost as fourth character in the film, in danger of swallowing the characters and their plight, covering up the wrongs Keller was doing to Youngblood out there in the barn. “That choice was made while we were working with Meagan for a year and a half on the script,” she says, “made very strongly in location scouting, and then made daily on set.”
Of course, in a film where no one is telling the truth to anyone else, and the filmmakers are even playing a bit of hide and seek with the audience, it can be a delicate balance for what you reveal when to the viewer. “Walking that line between the necessary self-revelation a character must embody in a story, and our need to hold back information from both characters and audience, was quite a trick for all of us,” says the director. In the film, which jumps back and forth to the past, it becomes clear that the only innocent in the film is Becky, and as it later turns out, even she had her secrets. “Meagan wrote a tight-as-a drum script,” says Moore, “with many burbling, explosive ideas that we on set had to channel and hone into the visual story.” The balance-tuning continued even in the long editing process, always keeping an eye on the tension between three people, and pulling it as close as possible to its breaking point. “It was incredibly difficult to do,” says the screenwriter, “We worked really hard together to find a way to make the story clear and engaging throughout, yet to maintain the mystery to the very last moment.”
Meagan Daine and Cornelia Moore’s WEST OF REDEMPTION plays Sunday August 30th at 5 p.m., with producer Larry Estes in attendance. Destiny City Film Festival opens tonight at 7:00 pm with A RISING TIDE, an inspirational story of a young restaurateur dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in Atlantic City. More information about the festival can be found at destinycityfilmfestival.com.