Sporting his trademark knit skull cap, writer-director Stephen Dest stood before a packed Criterion Cinemas theater preparing to field questions about his just-screened new independent film, My Brother Jack.
It was the first of two standing-room-only screenings Thursday evening followed by a crowded reception at UpCrown Studios— where the film’s journey began.
The audience included some of the film’s actors and crew, investors, friends, families and general moviegoers excited to see the film and their beloved Elm City on the big screen.
The first question of the Q-and-A following the show elicited a few laughs and a moment of candor, as the director was asked about the coincidence of both his movie and the new hit movie Silver Linings Playbook having lead characters that grapple with serious mental health issues.
“I didn’t see it,” Dest confessed, “with two kids and a busy work schedule, I don’t get to too many movies. I just write them and direct them.”
The film, a psychological thriller and murder-mystery, has some disturbing and graphic moments, but it is also filled with poignant vignettes of love; brotherly love, romantic love, and a dark, aberrant love that emerges as the plot unfolds. MBJ’s musical soundtrack, primarily by local composer-musician Jonny Rodgers, weaves magically through the scenes, adding an important sensory component to the mood and texture.
Viewers of the film were treated to many familiar scenes of the city; the New Haven Green, Audubon Street environs, Pitkin Plaza, the interiors of local bars, Diesel, Stella Luna, and Westville’s Kehler Liddell Gallery.
“I admire Phen’s [Dest’s] ability at casting New Haven,” remarked Taste of New Haven (http://tasteofnewhaven.com/) owner Colin Caplan. “I loved stepping back and watching my town in such a mysterious and sultry way. It was so familiar, and yet so imaginary.”
Taking an evening’s hiatus from his cameo role at Lyric Hall’s run of Long Time Gone: Words and Music by Bob Dylan was movie goer John Cavaliere, who also commented on the city’s connection to the movie: “In the same way that the character Jack has a lovely muse, so does the film’s director—and that muse is New Haven.” U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (pictured at the event) offered this appraisal: “The film drew on all of New Haven’s strengths, was very professional, poignant and well done.”
A post-screening reception held at Upcrown Studios gave folks a chance to mingle in an atmosphere of palpable pride; pride of those in the film and those connected to the film, and the pride of a city. Martin Roy, father of Liv Chelsea (Alex), who played both muse and love interest in the film, chuckled nervously as he described how he coped with seeing his daughter during a sex scene in the movie: “I covered my eyes and slunk down in my seat.”
“But we are very proud of her,” he quickly added.
Chelsea, who made her full-length feature film debut in My Brother Jack, said it was the first time she had seen the film and was amazed at how all the pieces came together.
Local sculptor Silas Finch’s found-object constructions were featured prominently throughout the film. Several scenes were filmed in Finch’s studio, where he said he had to work with actor Malcolm Madera (Jack) to ensure his convincing portrayal as a sculptor.
Painter Larry Morelli, another city artist whose work served as inspiration for the film and who is painting instructor at Norwalk Community College, showed up at the reception having missed the screening of the film, in which he has a short, but critical scene. “I had to teach a class. It was only the second one and I had to be there,” he lamented. Morelli was not aware that his scene had made the final cut, but was curious as to whether his paintings, now hanging in the large reception hall at UpCrown, had gotten some face time. They had.
For others who missed the screenings, Dest said that the film may have future local screenings at other venues. But for now the focus will be on screening the movie at film festivals and ultimately connecting with a buyer. He said that he is gratified by the tremendous feedback that continues to come in: “The night was a wonderful celebration of New Haven and the people that support it and the arts community. Having the story resonate after the viewing and hearing the dialogue continue long after the story has been told, is a wonderful feeling for a storyteller.” Those who were part of the creative whirlwind generated by the making of the movie, could not agree more.