‘Redwood Highway’ is a family film for the elderly
Director, producer and screenwriter James Twyman has noticed a lack of movies that speak to the elderly.
"There is a huge segment of our population, you know, the senior citizens, who are all around us that are relatively being ignored by the film community," Twyman said during a telephone interview with The Park Record from his home in Portland, Ore.
"There are so many movies that are being made primarily for 15-year-old boys that are really of no interest to the older generation."
Yet, when movies are made for that generation, such as John Madden’s 2011 ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,’ the seniors flock to see them, he said.
"It’s not only a vastly underserved market, but also one that is extremely responsive," Twyman said. "I just couldn’t figure out why this void hasn’t been paid attention to."
So, a couple of years ago, he and director Gary Lunden, decided to remedy situation with a film called "Redwood Highway" that will be screened at the Jim Santy Auditorium on Wednesday, May 1.
The movie is a feature film starring Shirley Knight, as a Marie, a 76-year-old woman, who decides to walk 80 miles to her estranged granddaughter’s wedding.
The goal for the project wasn’t just to make a movie, Twyman said.
"We wanted to create a movement," he explained. "Our intention is to not only make films ourselves, but to encourage other filmmakers to make films for the elder generation."
Twyman and Lunden brainstormed and knew they wanted to create an inspirational story.
"We wanted to address topics — such as healing past wounds, or losing one’s freedom because they can’t do all the things that they used to — that seniors would be able to relate to," Twyman said. "Of course, the themes as we move forward with the other films will be varied."
Knight’s character was based on Twyman’s own grandmother, whose name was Marie.
"Around the same time we were making ‘Redwood Highway,’ my family had to put her into a senior community, because she simply couldn’t live on her own anymore," Twyman said. "She tried to escape several times and was unsuccessful. So, the idea that struck me was, ‘What if she did escape?’ and ‘What would lead her down the Redwood Highway in search of her past?’"
The other influence was a David Lynch film, "The Straight Story," which starred Richard Farnsworth as a World War II veteran who embarks on a journey across Iowa and Wisconsin on a riding lawnmower.
"That film is based on a true story and the story really resonated with us," Twyman said. "We watched that over and over again and were inspired how a real-life, slow film could have such an impact."
The filmmakers met Knight through a normal casting process.
"We have a casting director in Los Angeles whom we worked with, and I was immediately struck with the idea of having Shirley in our film," Twyman said. "I knew what an amazing actress she is. I mean, she’s been nominated for two Academy Awards and has won three Emmys.
"She has also been in the business for more than 50 years and I felt she would bring a huge wealth of experience and talent to the role," he said.
Twyman also wanted Knight to have the part because there aren’t many actors and actresses who are in her age range that are offered good roles.
"I know from speaking with her that after she read our script, she realized that it was something unique and different and something that she could sink her teeth into," Twyman said. "Once we started working with her, we were absolutely astounded throughout the whole process at how well she did just that and what she brought to Marie."
During Marie’s journey in the film, she is befriended by a woodworker named Pete, played by another award-winning actor, Tom Skerritt.
"We were also led to Tom through the casting process, but we didn’t secure his talent until two days before we were to begin shooting," Twyman laughed. "We had planned to shoot his character’s scenes first, too, so we were a bit nervous."
Although Twyman had a couple of other actors in mind as well, things didn’t pan out.
"So, the casting director asked me what I thought about Tom Skerritt," he said. "I said that I loved Tom Skerritt.
"We found he lives in Seattle and we got him a script," Twyman said. "He loved it and two days later, he was with us in Oregon."
The filming was completed without any hiccups, Twyman said.
"You can judge how blessed, I can’t think of a better world, a project is by how smooth it goes from beginning to end," he said. "If that’s true, we were very blessed, because there weren’t many challenges.
"There was an amazing amount of goodwill on the set the entire time," Twyman said. "The crew all got along extremely well, and Shirley commented several times that she rarely saw that on a film set, and when she did, it turned out to be an fantastic film."
In fact, Twyman and Lunden wrote and produced the film from beginning to end in nine months.
"That’s including the time we began writing to the time we finished editing and actually showed it in the first venue," Twyman said. "It was a relatively fast project.
"Unlike many films that I’ve been a part of where there are often difficulties, ‘Redwood Highway’ was one of the happiest projects that I’ve done," Twyman said.
The Park City screening is the first time the film will be shown in Utah, he said.
From there it will embark on a tour of 5,000 senior communities thanks to an organization called the Senior Cinema Circle, which Twyman founded.
"The reason we’re doing this is because there is a huge segment of the elderly community that isn’t able to get out to the theater, so we’ll bring the theater to them," he said. "These are the people we’re making the film for and we want them to see it."
Once it completes the circuit, "Redwood Highway" will be released nationally on Sept. 8, which is Grandparents’ Day.
"Our hopeful goal is to launch a new film each year on that day, because most people don’t realize there is a Grandparents’ Day that was instituted by President Jimmy Carter when he was in office in 1978," Twyman said. "The idea is that we want to encourage people to bring their grandparents to the movie. We also want people to understand that there is a new movement in the filmmaking community to create inspiring films for the seniors and honor them for the amazing lives that they led and the contributions they still have to make in the world."
Completing the film was bittersweet for Twyman.
"One of the sad things for me is that my grandmother passed away in December," he said. "She was 98, and I really wanted her to see the film, but unfortunately, she was not able to."
Still, Twyman is looking forward to another film called "Senior Prom."
"It’s a documentary about a group of senior citizens who decide to recreate their past by throwing a different kind of prom that only elderly are invited to," he said. "We also have a couple of feature ideas that we are just beginning to play with."
The Park City Film Series will present Gary Lundgren’s "Redwood Highway," rated PG-13, on Wednesday, May 1, at the Jim Santy Auditorium at the Park City Library and Education Center, 1255 Park Ave. The screening will begin at 7 p.m. Following the screening, the film’s screenwriter and producer James Twyman will give a presentation. General admission tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students and senior citizens. For more information, visit http://www.parkcityfilmseries.com .
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