May 10--"Redwood Highway" could be labeled a coming-of-age film but for one small disqualifier: Its protagonist is a 75-year-old woman. Call it instead a coming-of-the-aged drama.
Veteran actress Shirley Knight plays Marie, a woman living in a retirement community in Southern Oregon. Estranged from her family and dissatisfied with her life, she sets out on an 80-mile foot journey to the Pacific Ocean along the Redwood Highway.
"Redwood Highway" will be shown Saturday as part of the Rainier Independent Film Festival in Ashford. It's the seventh year for the event, which will screen 37 films at several venues around the small mountain community.
Knight is a Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe winner and was twice nominated for an Academy Award. She starred in last year's "Our Idiot Brother" and will appear in next year's Stephen King adaptation "Mercy."
"It's a journey movie," said Ashland, Ore.-based director Gary Lundgren of "Redwood Highway." "She does come of age. She deals with a few things in her past and that allows her to face conflict she's under. She hasn't seen the ocean in 45 years, and we answer why in the movie."
The character is fictional but was inspired by several matriarchs in the lives of Lundgren and the movie's two producers.
"It's a film that is personal, and it's hard for me to watch without thinking of my wife's grandmother, who I was close to," Lundgren said.
Knight, 76, has worked alongside the giants of stage and screen, from Tennessee Williams to Paul Newman. Though Lundgren has a good track record in indie films -- his 2009 baseball comedy/drama "Calvin Marshall" with Steve Zahn was an indie hit -- it was still a coup to get Knight as the star in "Redwood Highway."
Lundgren said it was a simple matter of sending her the script followed by a long phone conversation. "She loved the script and loved the idea of playing this person," he said.
As with any road movie, Knight's character meets an interesting crew of other characters along the way.
Cast in a supporting role is Seattle-based actor Tom Skerritt ("Alien," "Top Gun," "A River Runs Through It").
"He's a big proponent for the arts and filmmaking, especially in the Northwest. It felt like a good match to have him in the cast," Lundgren said.
"Redwood Highway" is one of 12 films being presented at RIFF by Seattle film guru and "The High Bar" host Warren Etheredge.
In August, "Redwood Highway" will be shown at 2,500 retirement communities across the nation. The nontraditional release is underwritten by a sponsor. "Hopefully, that will give the film a lot of visibility in this demographic," Lundgren said. "There's a lot of people craving a different kind of story,"
Lundgren will start production on "Black Road" this summer. It represents a genre change for the director. The sci-fi thriller is set 30 years in the future in the state of Jefferson, which has seceded from parts of Oregon and California.
"It's kind of the Wild West," he said. "But at the heart of it, it's about people."
As with his other films, Lundgren will shoot in Southern Oregon. He cites the region's weather and its actor and crew bases and Oregon's film incentives.
"Regional filmmaking is where it's at these days," he said. "Portland is blowing up with television. The state is film friendly."
Rainier Independent Film Festival
Where: Various venues in Ashford
Tickets: $5 per film (passes also available)
Cast: Shirley Knight, Tom Skerritt, James LeGros
Director: Gary Lundgren
Running time: 1:30
Screens: 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: Mount Rainier Lions Theater, 27726 state Route 706 E., Ashford, Ore.
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