By Cameron Rasmusson
There’s no easy solution when worldviews among family members and loved ones begin to diverge.
That’s the tough reality explored by “Emily,” an independent film by Portland filmmakers Ryan Graves and Kelly McCrillis. The story of a young couple struggling as they are drawn toward opposing values, “Emily” is a film that avoids easy answers. Instead, it portrays a theme as messy as human relationships as the sometimes funny, often painful and rarely elegant process it is, and it has the maturity to acknowledge that in matters of the heart, there are frequently no right answers.
“The most important thing we wanted to communicate was not a story of right versus wrong but rather a story of right versus right,” said Graves.
“Emily” introduces its central characters, Nathan and Emily, as a couple whose lives follow the rote rhythms of work and small talk over dinners. For Emily, her faith and weekly Bible studies imbue meaning to the domestic lifestyle. But Nathan is not content. He admits to Emily he no longer shares her religious convictions. What’s more, he isn’t satisfied by his predictable life as a Portland copywriter and instead pines for travel and creative fulfillment. As the initial conflict over religion grows to include disagreements about having children, the strain on Nathan and Emily’s marriage nears a breaking point.
“Emily’s” thematic honesty is buoyed by its fine details. Whether it be the anxious minutes Emily spends awaiting a longed-for text reply or the couple’s practiced avoidance of conversation through household tasks, the movie finds as much authenticity in its small moments as the broader strokes of its narrative.
Given the genuine feeling of “Emily’s” conflict and characters, it’s no surprise that Graves took inspiration from elements of his own life. Drawing from his experiences with his college girlfriend, now his wife, he worked with McCrillis to develop the story. Once the script was complete, the creative duo was able to recruit a capable crew and a cast of veteran television actors, including Rachael Perrell Fosket and Michael Draper in the central roles. The true-to-life elements of story contributed greatly to the movie’s nuanced performances, McCrillis said.
“Ryan did a lot of really personal work with both of the actors to help them figure out their characters,” he added.
Much like the relationship at the heart of the story, the effort to bring “Emily” to the big screen was itself a labor of love. Graves and McCrillis received an initial investment based on the strength of an earlier short film. After principal photography wrapped in November 2014, the pair found they needed additional funds for editing, color correction, original music and other post-production concerns. An Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign gave “Emily” the final push it needed to be theater-ready, although the process wasn’t without its hurdles.
“I remember we did lose all of our music at one point because our composer had a [hard drive failure],” said Graves.
In an interesting twist, the pre-production for “Emily” began just around the time Graves and McCrillis were introducing their short film, “Mr. Right,” at the Sandpoint Film Festival. The relationships formed at the local festival paved the way for the Panida Theater “Emily” screenings this weekend. For Graves and McCrillis, both Spokane natives, it feels like bringing the project full circle, and they are excited to share that moment with Sandpoint’s enthusiastic arts community.
“Sandpoint is quickly becoming our home away from home away from home,” said McCrillis.
Catch “Emily” at the Panida Theater 7 p.m. April 28-29, 3 p.m. April 30 and 7 p.m. May 1-4. Take note that the filmmakers will be present on Saturday, April 29, and will host a question-and-answer session after the film. Tickets are available for purchase online at www.panida.org or at the door on the night of the show.