BY MATT HONGOLTZ-HETLING
Most of them don't realize it, but millions of Americans have seen Lena Friedrich, an aspiring filmmaker who came to the area to document the North Pond Hermit this week.
Friedrich, now 27, had a small role in the 2009 World War II film "Inglourious Basterds," directed by Quentin Tarantino. The film also netted her costar, Christoph Waltz, an Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor category.
"He was like his characters, very sophisticated," Friedrich said, the accent of her native France apparent as she described her month on the film set.
Waltz won a second Oscar in the same category this year, for his 2012 performance in "Django Unchained," another Tarantino film.
Friedrich got the role in the movie, she said, during her final semester as a sociology student at Columbia University in New York City. After a night of working on her thesis, she went out with a group of friends to a Korean bar in the city's West Village, where she happened upon Tarantino, who was drinking cocktails with a friend. What began as a casual conversation about film, she said, led to an invitation to audition for Tarantino.
In the film's tense opening sequence, she played the daughter of a French farmer who was grilled by Waltz's character, a Nazi general, about whether the farmer was harboring Jewish refugees.
"It was the most exciting month of my life," she said, and then added, with only a trace of irony, "but now my week here is the most exciting time of my life."
Today, Friedrich is a student at the New York Film Academy. She and two other students -- cinematographer Laura Snow and sound technician Aitor Mendilibar -- will be in the Waterville area through Friday, delving into the mystery of the North Pond Hermit, Christopher Knight, the 47-year-old man who police recently charged with committing burglaries while living in isolation in the woods of Rome for 27 years.
Friedrich said she first became aware of Knight through a story that appeared in the New York Times and was intrigued by the coverage in Maine's newspapers.
"What interested me was not only the story, but all the reactions, and the diversity of the reactions that I find fascinating," she said. "This is a guy that nobody knows, but everybody feels a connection to him; so that's what we came here to explore."
She said she is also interested in the idea that Knight, who for decades was the least socially connected person in the area, suddenly has become Rome's most famous person.
"Nobody has pronounced his name in 30 years, maybe, and now he is on everybody's lips," she said. "That I find fascinating."
Friedrich said she has uncovered new angles in the hermit's story that have not been reported yet, but she declined to reveal the details.
The people of rural Maine have made a favorable impression on the film crew, according to Friedrich, who has lived in New York, London and Paris.
"People are much nicer here," she said. "Two of us are international. We thought it might be a disadvantage because people would not trust us; but I've been so amazed, and every day is a succession of good surprises."
The high point of the trip so far, she said, has been visiting Knight's encampment, where she felt close to Knight.
"It's a place where you activate your imagination," she said. "To see what he was looking at, what he was listening at, how he would wake up in the morning."
She said she still is connecting with people in the community, and she asked that anyone with a story or interesting viewpoint to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friedrich said the students may have enough material by the end of the week to complete the film, but they may return, depending on a review of her footage and future developments.
"If we have a chance to meet Christopher Knight, we will definitely come back," she said. "But even if we don't meet him, there is a film and there is a good film."
The future of the documentary is uncertain. Friedrich said she originally conceived of it as a 25-minute short film, but she is now leaning toward a longer version, perhaps feature-length.
The finished product will be screened in New York for the film academy in early September. She also hopes to have a screening in the area in September.
After that, Friedrich plans to shop the movie around at various film festivals. If it gets enough acclaim on the independent film circuit, she said, it could allow her to secure more widespread distribution.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling -- 861-9287
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