Northern Stories

By Ben Beagle, Daily News Lifestyles Editor
February 16, 2004

Jay Craven’s first dramatic film was based on a short story by Howard Frank Mosher.
The filmmaker went on to adapt two more Mosher’s stories into films, is in pre-production on a third and recently finished the first draft of a screenplay for a fourth.

“The quirky characters and their flaws are connected to what I thought were quintessential American stories,” Craven said in a telephone interview from his Barnet, Vt., office. “His stories contained everything I was looking for as a filmmaker.”

The three completed films — the short High Water, and feature-length Where the Rivers Flow North and A Stranger in the Kingdom — will be screened in coming weeks as part of “A Tale for Three Counties,” a community reading project featuring Mosher’s Northern Borders.

It’s a mini film festival that begins at 7 p.m. Thursday with A Stranger in the Kingdom at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia.

“The films add a visual dimension to the project,” said Leslie DeLooze, reference and community services librarian at Richmond Memorial Library.

The screenings are part of several expanded program offerings as part of this year’s “Tale” project, which aims to get people in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties reading and discussing the same book before Mosher visits at the end of March.

Independent filmmaker Rob LaPoint of Pavilion will introduce and lead a discussion of High Water when it is screened Feb. 28 at Richmond Library.

“I hope to provide a little insight from the filmmakers’ perspective,” said LaPoint, who has worked mostly on commercials and educational programs. He has animated and film projects in development, he said.

Additional screenings are planned Feb. 27 at Cordelia A. Greene Library, 11 South Main St., Castile, and March 13 at Swan Library, 4 North Main St., Albion. The Castile and Albion screenings will feature all three films — about five hours total.

“People are welcome to come for one or all of the films,” said Susie Gaylard, administrative assistant and adult program director at Swan Library, Albion. “We’re planning a very casual, friendly atmosphere. A fun atmosphere.”

Organizers of “Tale” expect the films to help readers relate to the world that Mosher creates in his novels, and spur further discussion of the project’s featured book. The two feature films, in particular, explore Mosher’s indomitable characters, ironic humor and universal themes of community, continuity, struggle and change on the northern frontier.

“These are interpretations of the stories,” DeLooze said of the films. “The filmmaker is bringing the author’s works to the people in a different way.”

Craven directed and co-wrote all three films, beginning with High Water in 1988.

“It’s very much a ‘Northern’ story,” said Craven, whose previous film work was in documentaries. “It has all the elements, physical action and natural disasters that go along with Howard’s stories. It’s a clear protagonist-driven story that captures a sense of the Northern Kingdom and its strong cultural sensibilities.”

High Water won awards at a dozen film festivals and opened the door for Craven’s subsequent features. He left his position as director of Catamounts Arts, an organization he started in 1975, to found Kingdom County Productions in 1991 and become a full-time filmmaker.

It was around this time that Craven and Mosher worked together most closely, the filmmaker said, as they adapted Where the Rivers Flow North and A Stranger in the Kingdom.

“As you write a screenplay and get the characters in your mind, they speak to you. And for film, you have to extend that conversation,” Craven said. “I’d ask Howard because he knew the characters best.”

Where the Rivers Flow North, starring Rip Torn, Tantoo Cardinal and Michael J. Fox, was released in 1994. The film played 18 international film festivals, including Sundance.

A Stranger in the Kingdom, starring Ernie Hudson, David Lansbury and Martin Sheen, played theaters and festivals in 1997 and 1998.

“With Stranger the challenge was that there were so many characters and so many incidents. It was a long novel. Trying to find the exact balance and weight for the film was just daunting to me,” Craven said. “I’d talk to Howard and ask, ‘Does this make sense?’.”

Craven and Mosher are in pre-production on an adaptation of Mosher’s Disappearances, and have completed a draft screenplay for Northern Borders.

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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