Director Julian Grant and producer Boris Wexler couldn’t attend the New York City International Film Festival closing ceremonies last week, but fortunately two production company members did, as they were repeatedly called up to the stage to accept a record number of awards that put Chicago indies on the map.
Their feature, Fall Away, swept the five top prizes in NYCIFF’s Gay and Lesbian category: Best Film, Best Director, Best Lead Actor, Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay.
“We were hoping we might get one or two nods, but the five awards came as a surprise to everyone,” says Wexler, still feeling numb after receiving the awards news.
“Fall Away was a group effort and we made a film that spoke to the heart of the story Grant Stokes created,” he says.
Grant was responsible for Fall Away’s winning directing, cinematography and the screenplay, which he co-wrote with Stokes, who also won for best lead actor.
Grant is an award-winning writer/producer/director, an author, fine art photographer and a Columbia College tenured professor. He has 24 films and 10 TV movies to his credit, including The Defiled and acclaimed mini-series Robocop: Prime Directives.
Fall Away was shot at Chicago locations in early 2010 and completed in November 2010. Grant shot in a widescreen 2:35 format and Fall Away was the first Midwest feature entirely shot with the Canon Eos 7D DRSL camera.
The story is about the life and death of Jake (Stokes), the lead singer of the up-and-coming country folk band 65 Home. On the verge of being discovered, Jake is violently killed in a Chicago alleyway after spending a lifetime hiding his sexual identity.
As the band travels to Nashville to honor his passing, the story delves into clips of past, present, and future to reveal the various facets of his complex personality and tortured history.
For the film, Stokes, a New York-trained Chicago actor and musician, assembled a real world band, Crooked Willow, with actor musicians like himself, whose 18 original country songs are heard in the film.
The ensemble cast of 13 actors includes Nathanial Card as Jake’s secret lover, Erinn Strain is Jake’s ex-girlfriend, Kathleen Lawlor as the band manager and Ann Hageman as the band promoter. Strain and Lawlor did the honors representing the production in New York.
Grant and Stokes first connected four years ago when Grant cast Stokes in his short films. Stokes had written the Fall Away story and went to Grant in search of direction.
Grant, in turn, brought the project to producer Wexler, a native of France, who raised the $200,000 budget from private investors overseas.
Fall Away premiered at the Swansea Bay Film Festival in England earlier this year. Buoyed by the overwhelming success at the NYCIFF, the producers are anticipating positive submission responses from several U.S. and European indie festivals.