Ed Asner in Elephant Sighs, filmed in High Point. (courtesy photo)
Elephant Sighs, the independent feature filmed on location in High Point in early 2010 (and chronicled in a YES! Weekly cover story), will enjoy a special advance screening Sunday at A/perture Cinema (311 W. 4th St.,Winston-Salem), with filmmakers Ed Simpson and David Wells in attendance.
An ensemble comedy/drama based on Simpson’s stage play of the same name, Elephant Sighs stars multi- Emmy and Golden Globe Award winner Ed Asner, Jack Kehler, John Cariani, Mark Fite and Wells. Kehler and Wells have both appeared in theatrical productions and Wells has directed it onstage as well.
Set in and around a community recreation center in a small Pennsylvania town, the story focuses on a group of men (Asner, Kehler, Cariani and Wells) who gather on a regular basis to play cards, shoot the breeze, bust each other’s chops and, occasionally, offer sage and sympathetic advice to each other. Into this circle of friends comes a newcomer (Fite), who’s not quite sure why he’s there but can’t quite bring himself to leave their company.
Simpson wrote the play, directed its world premiere (and subsequent productions) and now has made his screen debut as screenwriter, director and producer of the film version, a fairly remarkable trifecta that he didn’t take for granted.
“It was exciting to see it come alive and learn a new way of working,” he said.
Given that the actors all had more film experience than he did, Simpson was always open to input. “To work with actors of this caliber, you’d listen to their ideas,” he said. “It was really a blessing, having that kind of collaboration. They were generous. They love what they’re doing. They respect what they’re doing and the people they’re working with. We were able to accomplish an awful lot without a lot of money or time.”
Given the inevitable changes that occur when transferring a play to film, how does the playwright feel about the adaptation?
“Actually, he’s very happy,” Simpson smiled. “There were time on the set when I had to tell him ‘Shut up, we’re making a movie.’” Given that he initially wrote Elephant Sighs in the mid-’90s, “I had the distance to look at it differently,” he said. “It was fun to be able to go back and tinker with it.”
Since completing principal photography, Simpson has had to juggle post-production chores and dealing with potential distributors while teaching full-time at High Point University, where he’s the chair of the Performance Arts Department. (In fact, he’s currently working on an upcoming world-premiere production there, titled The Glasses.)
“We have a couple of [film] projects in various stages of pre-production,” he said, “and we’d like to get started on them. Having made this film, we know the process a lot better. It was hard work — harder than I expected, for sure — but it was also fun, and satisfying, and rewarding. I did it once, and I can’t wait to do it again.”
The Jan. 29 Elephant Sighs screening is only the latest, locally made independent film screened at A/perture since opening in January 2010. The indie horror films Hellphone and In the Devil’s Courthouse were also recently screened there.
Some have done well, others not as much, but as A/perture curator Lawren Desai said, “We have such a great film community, not just with UNCSA, but local and regional filmmakers as well, that I think there should be a place to see these films, so whenever possible we try to fit them into our schedule.
“What’s great about it is that a lot of times the filmmakers are able to come and talk about their projects and really inspire our audiences as well as their peers,” Desai continued. “We’ve had great success with a lot of these films and we enjoy working with the filmmakers, for many of whom this is their first public screening.”
As for this particular screening, “I liked Elephant Sighs and think my audience will go for it,” she said. “Ed was able to get a really great cast.”
Entering its third year, “A/perture is doing great,” said Desai.
“Word of mouth continues to grow and we are still getting new visitors almost every day. I don’t think anyone doubts anymore that downtown Winston-Salem could support an arthouse [theater], and I think we’ve encouraged others to really jump in and really take the leap to move to ‘the neighborhood.’” Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10. For advance tickets or more information, the official a/perture cinemas website is: aperturecinema.com/. The official Elephant Sighs website is: elephantsighs.net.