Like so many graduates of the UNCSA School of Filmmaking, Zach Clark (’04) has been making his name and reputation in the independent spectrum. His 2013 feature White Reindeer was a hot ticket at the RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem and earned a Spark award for its leading lady, Anna Margaret Hollyman.
His latest feature’s title, Little Sister, has a dual meaning: Principal character Colleen Lunsford (Addison Timlin) is the younger sibling in her family and she’s a novice nun on the verge of taking of vows – a “little sister” in both senses of the term.
But before Colleen takes those vows, she returns home to Asheville to reconnect with her family and friends. Older brother Jacob (Keith Poulson) has recently returned from military service in Iraq, where he was badly burned in combat, and their parents Joani and Bill (Ally Sheedy and Peter Hedges, the latter also a UNCSA alumnus) seem at a loss as to how best communicate with their children.
For all of his dramatic ramifications, however, Little Sister is also a brittle comedy about human foibles and neuroses, about trying to reconnect with the past while establishing a solid foundation for the future. Its irreverence comes to the fore in a climactic family Halloween party that’s a little more chemically-enhanced than expected.
Having made the festival rounds this year – SXSW, the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Fantasia International Film Festival, Boston Underground, Revelation Perth, and the Sidewalk Film Festival (as the closing-night film), among others – Little Sister opens Friday at a/perture cinema in Winston-Salem for a week-long run.
Clark (director and editor) worked closely with fellow producer and story writer (and UNCSA graduate) Melodie Sisk to bring Little Sister to life.
“The main characters of the film are all named after my immediate family,” Clark reveals. “I have a sister named Colleen, a brother named Jacob, a mom named Joani, and a dad named Bill. Melodie’s stepdad’s last name is Lunsford, which is the last name of the family in the movie. We shot the movie in her parents’ house and in the homes of their friends and family. No single character is a verbatim representation of their real-life counterpart, but almost everything in the movie has some sort of emotional resonance or real-life correlation for either Melodie or myself. We mixed and matched traits and backgrounds and also made a bunch of stuff up, too.”
Molly Plunk appears as Colleen’s childhood chum Emily, who has since become a social and political activist – and who still nurses a high-school crush on Jacob – while Kristin Slaysman plays Jacob’s disconsolate and estranged fiancee, and ’80s-era “scream queen” Barbara Crampton as the Reverend Mother, whose compassion for Colleen’s dilemma is balanced by mounting impatience that Colleen borrowed her car to drive to Asheville and keeps putting off her return.
“She, Addison, and Ally came about through a pretty traditional casting process,” he says. “We sent the script to their agents and they were interested and came on board. Keith Poulson and Molly Plunk I had in mind while writing (the script); I knew Keith already, and I had seen Molly in my friend Drew Tobia’s film See You Next Tuesday, and her performance was my favorite thing I saw in a movie that year (2013).”
Clark describes the Little Sister cast as “all dream boats. A script is just words on paper; the actors bring it to life.”
In addition to Clark and Hedges, “lots of UNCSA folks worked on the movie,” says Clark. “Melodie Sisk graduated in the same class as me, 2004, in the drama program. Our costume designer David Withrow and first assistant cameraman Alex Sablow also attended UNCSA. In fact, our make-up artist, Margaret Sackman, was still going to UNCSA when we shot the film. She’d travel back on weekends to work on her thesis.”
According to Clark, Asheville was always the place for Little Sister to be shot. “All the Asheville locations were specifically written for. It was pretty laid-back, easy to find places to shoot, and the community was friendly and welcoming – and October/November in the mountains is a gorgeous time of year.”
Clark looks back on his School of Filmmaking days with great fondness. “I think we were all instilled with this ‘Go out there and make your movie’ attitude, which has stuck with me. We were immediately given cameras and told to go make stuff, and not given that many resources beyond that, we had to make-do and learn how to make the most out of a little.”
Unfortunately, his schedule precludes a visit to his old Winston-Salem stomping grounds for Little Sister’s run – “but my heart will be in Winston while the rest of me is in California.”
The Internet Movie Database (IMDd) credits Clark as editor for the upcoming features Always Shine and the memorably titled Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town – both of which star Mackenzie Davis – and he jokes that his next project will be “hopefully making another movie! I’m pretty superstitious about these things, so I’m not going to jinx myself by saying too much about it.”
Want to go …? Little Sister opens Friday at a/perture cinema, 311 W. Fourth St., Winston-Salem. For advance tickets or more information, call 336.722.8148 or visit the official website: aperturecinema.com. The official Little Sister website is www.littlesisterthemovie.com.