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Movies made in Albany

Thinking It Through

Movies made in Albany

Ryan Munzert in "The Tomorrow Paradox." (Screenshot from trailer)
Ryan Munzert in "The Tomorrow Paradox." (Screenshot from trailer)

The Capital Region is not a movie-making hub, and I don't expect that to change any time soon.

But some notable and interesting films have been made here, such as 2012's "The Place Beyond the Pines" and the 1987 film adaptation of William Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "Ironweed."

This month I've seen two movies filmed in and around Albany, and each work deserves more attention than it's received. The films are very different in tone and genre, but they're both interesting and intelligent films made by first time directors working with small budgets.  

The first film, "As You Are," has actually received a fair amount of attention from film critics. It won the special jury award at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, and stars some familiar faces: Charlie Heaton from the hit TV show "Stranger Things," Mary Stuart Masterson, who starred in "Fried Green Tomatoes" and "Benny & Joon" and Amandla Stenberg, who played Rue in "The Hunger Games."

The filmmaker, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, is young, but has a keen eye and a strong sense of narrative. He eschews flashier techniques for a more naturalistic and impressionistic approach to his coming-of-age tale, and gives his talented cast room to breathe.

Joris-Peyrafitte is an Albany native - I interviewed him about a decade ago, when he was a 13-year-old student at the Albany Free School, a small alternative school located a short distance from my apartment. He filmed "As You Are" in the Capital Region, but there's nothing that really identifies it as a movie set in the Capital Region. I recognized Albany High School, (referred to by the characters as Capital High, if I remember correctly), but the film is set in a community that's smaller and more rural. It's also a period piece - the title refers to a Nirvana song - and you can tell it's the early nineties because the teens are all wearing old flannel clothes. (It actually looks a little bit like my high school circa 1993, now that I think about it.)

The story Joris-Peyrafitte tells is a sad one, but "As You Are" contains moments of great joy and excitement, and it has a great sense of what it's like to be a teenage outcast, with little use for cliques or extra-curricular activities or academics.

"As You Are" is an ambitious film - perhaps more ambitious than it needs to be. I wasn't sure the film needed to be set in the past, or that it always benefited from intercutting scenes from the past with interviews set in a police station. But these are small complaints. "As You Are" is the work of a filmmaker who knows what he's doing, and it will be interesting to see what Joris-Peyrafitte does next.

Last weekend I caught a screening of the science-fiction film "The Tomorrow Paradox" at the Madison Theater. Much of the film was shot in a dingy apartment in Albany's Center Square neighborhood, where I used to live, and there's also some footage that was filmed at Albany Memorial Hospital, where I went for occupational therapy after I broke my wrist.

"The Tomorrow Paradox" joins a rich subgenre of science fiction: micro-budgeted feature films that lack the special effects you find in bigger-budgeted films, but make up for it with ingenuity and simple, effective tricks. (Films in this subgenre include "Primer," "Another Earth," and "H.," which was shot in Troy.)

"The Tomorrow Paradox" was directed by Bruce Wemple, a Bethlehem High School graduate clearly influenced by "Back to the Future" and "Memento." It tells the story of a man who is addicted to a new street drug that SPOILER enables him to time travel. Thanks to this newfound ability, he foresees that the girl across the street is going to be abducted ... and that he's going to be blamed for it.

Wemple has crafted what is essentially a puzzle film, where the audience joins the protagonist in trying to solve the mystery at the heart of the story. He does a great job of building suspense and weaving together several different story threads, and while the plotting is complicated, the film never becomes incoherent. Perhaps most impressive, you actually feel as though you're jumping around in time, and the film is unusually astute about the all-consuming nature of both addiction and grief.

Watching films made in your own backyard is always fun, and "As You Are" and "The Tomorrow Paradox" are both worth seeking out. I'm glad I got to see them on the big screen, in the city where they were made.

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