A rainstorm, a mudslide, flooding, a stinkbug infestation and a swarm of cicada killer wasps- sounds like things you’d find on the set of the new “Hunger Games” movie, but these natural co-stars actually played important roles in Lise Raven’s “Kinderwald,” which will make its North American debut at the Slamdance Film Festival next week.
The third feature-length film for Raven, who is an assistant professor in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design’s Film and Video Program, follows a Hansel and Gretel-esque tale of children lost in the woods –but from the perspective of their parents. It will have the prestige of being the closing film of the festival which runs from Jan. 17-23 in Park City, Utah.
The film, which is the second of a three-part series, is set in Pennsylvania in 1854 and follows the story of a pair of German immigrants whose children go missing. To create this setting on a tight budget, Raven employed a tactic used by some of filmmaking’s best. She took the entire cast and crew, 30 in all, to a secluded former YMCA camp in the woods of Lancaster County, Pa. where they lived in an encampment for an entire month while shooting.
“I’ve always wanted to make a film like ‘Apocalypse Now’ where you take everyone to an island for two years to shoot,” Raven said. “It allows you to shut out everything else and immerse yourself in the world around you. Separating the cast from the outside world forces them to come together and react to their surroundings – the environment becomes a character in the film.”
While Raven’s budget didn’t allow for two years of secluded shooting like Francis Ford Coppola’s award-winning picture, a month in the woods of Pennsylvania gave the cast and crew plenty of bonding experiences that translated on screen.
It was a departure from Raven’s previous filmmaking experiences, but one that the outdoor enthusiast – who spent six months of her post-high school youth living on the Oregon coast in a tipi that she built- had envisioned for some time.
“There’s something about filming entirely outdoors that really seeps into the bones of the film,” Raven said. “We shot every day -rain or shine. I relied on those elements –and how the cast reacted to them- to tell the story.”
Keeping to this organic method of filmmaking, Raven’s production crew recorded many of the natural sounds used in the movie’s final soundtrack from on-set and the surrounding area. The opening and closing sequences, featuring a ram and sheep in a field, were also captured during the course of filming outside –the result of a serendipitous encounter by one of the actors while exploring the area in between shots.
Even the scenes that were not shot at the encampment in Lancaster County were located at nearby state parks in order to reduce the travel footprint of the film – one of the many ways that Raven put the film together in accordance with the Producer’s Guild of America’s Green Production Guide and under advisement of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office’s “Greener Sets” initiative. In addition to minimizing travel, this also included using local actors, shooting outside and following low-impact procedures on set.
“Keeping green also helped us keep costs down,” Raven said. “I wanted to show that you can put a lot on screen without spending a lot of money. The goal was to get the highest level of production value at the best cost – this is something I try to drive home with my students as well: you don’t have to spend a ton of money to produce a quality film and get noticed.”
Raven pulled the funds together for the production from a number of sources including an online crowd-funding campaign and several private donors. Drexel’s Office of Research partnered with Westphal College to support her work with a creative research grant. The process paved the way for the establishment of the Westphal College Creativity Fund which now supports the research and creative work aspirations of junior, tenure-track faculty in the college.
She also tapped into the talent of Drexel’s students as a resource for the project, while using it as a teaching opportunity. Raven employed two co-op students from Westphal’s Film & Video Department, took on three interns from other Drexel programs and created pre and post-production volunteer opportunities for several other students to get involved. In addition, she hired recent graduates from the department to edit and color correct the film.
“Kinderwald” debuted over the summer at the Munich International Film Festival. It will be the closing night film -a special screening that will not be part of the competition- at the Slamdance Festival on Jan. 23. The festival, which runs concurrent with the Sundance Festival in Park City, features only first-time filmmakers. Raven’s first feature film “Low” debuted at the first Slamdance Festival in 1995. She returns this year as an alumni judge and featured director of the closing night film.