By Judy Marks
It took a long time, a lot of work – even a few tears – to see their work blossom and grow. But the small town army of artists who wrote, directed, acted in and contributed to myriad or other ways to “The Immigrant Garden” will share their artistry at the preview to benefit the Southwest Washington Dance Center May 19.
“The Immigrant Garden” is a film based on an original, award-winning play by Caroline Wood of Longveiw. The picture is directed by C. Tad Devlin of Chehalis, and produced by his company, Northwest Film Projects. The film will be shown at noon and 3 p.m. at the Chehalis Theater. The event will be the chance for people to views the movie made in their own back yard, and for the film makers to find out how the film measures up to expectations,Devlin said. “We’re going to have a little questionnaire for everyone to fill out at the screening,” Devlin said, “We want to know what people think; that’s very important to us.”
The film is a collaborative effort of between 300 and 350 people, Devlin said and revolves around a young Cecily Barnes and 80-year-old Louise Beauchamp. Separated by and ocean and several generations, the two share a love of gardening that unites them in a special friendship, and allows Mrs. Beauchamp to share her wisdom with the younger woman. Seventeen-year-old Cecily, motherless since she was 3 years old, lives alone with her school teacher father, Aurthur Barnes, in 1910 Oakville, Wash.
Poking through the local hardware store one day, Cecily discovers an old seed packet, bearing the words of Mrs. Beauchamp: “Flowers are medicine for the longing soul.” Believing this may be just the tonic she needs, Cecily buys and writes to the company in England asking for more. A correspondence blooms between the two, as does Cecily’s self-confidence and spirit, the result of her older friend’s gentle guidance.
The film owes it’s beginning to a play Wood wrote in 1989, which was first produced in New York. Beverly Fite, who grew up in Birmingham Ala., first played the role of Mrs. Beauchamp in New York and re-creates the role in the film. Fite first appeared in “Oklahoma” when it opened on Broadway and has made her career onstage ever since. “We thought of going local (for the role),” Devlin said of the older character, “But Caroline had met her and really liked her, based on my experience with Caroline, I said ‘Let’s just go for it’. She was right – the woman has added a whole new dimension to the movie based on her talent.” The role of Cecily is portrayed by Angela Johnson of Onalaska, who currently attends Centralia College and takes classes in the school’s drama department.
The filming process was an education in itself for the young woman who plans to pursue a career in film and theater, said Angela Johnson, who is anxiously awaiting the film’s opening. “Yes, it’s very exciting,” Johnson said, “I’m very much looking foreword to seeing the whole film. I’ve seen clips of it and it’s beautiful, and I can’t wait to share it with the public.” Like everyone else involved Johnson worked on a “deferred payment” basis, meaning the cast and crew – and producer – will not be paid until the film turns a profit. For the actors and crew, the that meant regular paychecks were nonexistent. For Devlin, it was a roll of financial dice that could have disastrous results. “We went over budget about $200,000,” and the man who has such Hollywood films as “Sleeping With the Enemy” and “When a Man Loves a Woman” to his credit. “But hey it was my first movie as a director, I wanted it to be right,” he said with a laugh.
If the film is picked up by a studio, Devlin will recoup his investment and be able to clear the books of the half-million-dollar personal debt he incurred. The Writer has more modest hopes.” I think my best hope is that the story will touch the people that it needs to touch, and that these characters will be able to share what the have to share,” said Wood, who like Johnson will first see the film in it’s entirety at the benefit preview. “I have only seen segments, but I’m very happy with it,” she said. This was definitely a collaborative effort, but the seed was my seed. It’s just like plating a garden,” she mused “I planted that seed but the gardeners came along and worked on the garden to make it what it is. It’s all a little overwhelming actually.”