“The Sounding” is a project nearly six years in the making.
From story concept to completion, it’s taken actor and writer Catherine Eaton from California, to Vermont, to New York City to Monhegan Island and, finally, to Waterville, where it will be screened as the opening film at the 20th annual Maine International Film Festival on Friday, July 14. This film is her directorial debut.
Eaton conceived of the film’s central character after moving home from California to Vermont to take care of her injured mother. The New England native, who spent nearly every summer until college at her grandparents house in Hull’s Cove on Mount Desert Island, was going stir crazy in the rural town where her mother lived. One night, she began tearing pages out of a book of Shakespeare and hanging them around the living room — a scene replicated in “The Sounding.” That was when the character of Liv was born.
Liv is a free-spirited young woman living on an isolated Maine island, who at some point in her life chooses to stop speaking out loud altogether, except for carefully chosen Shakespearean dialogue.
“I began to think about language, and how we use it, and what a phrase like ‘I love you’ really means,” said Eaton. “The words are beautiful, but we use it as if it means the same thing as the action of love … out of that, the play and then the film was born.”
“The Sounding” started life as a one-woman show written and performed by Eaton in theaters all over the Northeast, eventually settling into a residency at the Roger Smith Hotel in New York City, performed in a glassed-in storefront where passersby could watch. Eventually, she was approached by a financial backer with an interest in developing the play into a film.
Eaton fleshed out her play into a full story, giving it a concrete setting — a fictional Maine island and also Portland — and building other characters around the character of Liv. They include Liv’s beloved, eccentric grandfather, Lionel (played in the film by Harris Yulin); Michael (Teddy Sears), the son of Lionel’s best friend and a neurologist concerned about Liv’s choosing not to speak; and the fiercely protective family friend Roland (Frankie Faison).
Not only did Eaton want to set the film in Maine, she wanted to film as much of it in Maine as she could, ideally on a Maine island. She explored the Cranberry Islands and Deer Isle-Stonington, and was all set to film on a privately owned island near Deer Isle until that location became unavailable less than a week before shooting was set to commence.
Monhegan — 12 miles off the coast from the Boothbay region, with a year-round population of just 45 — became available after hours of frantic phone calls to everyone Eaton knew in Maine.
“I called everyone I knew, and then finally, a friend of mine, Dylan Metrano, said ‘Sure, come on out. I’ll make it work,’” said Eaton. “I’d never been to Monhegan. It was incredible. They couldn’t have been more helpful. I’d say we met at least half of the people that live there. I was so moved by how supportive they were.”
The island is shown in luminous scenes throughout the film, showcasing its rugged cliffs, deep blue waters and elegant homes. Later, the film moves into a psychiatric hospital — in the movie, it’s set in Maine, though Eaton and her crew filmed those scenes in and around New York.
“The Sounding” is, at its core, a movie about being yourself, no matter the cost, a sentiment that resonates strongly with Maine’s spirit of rugged individualism.
“I have this longstanding connection to Maine, and when I was thinking about what kind of a community could support and would be protective of a human being like Liv, I thought of a small community like a Maine island,” said Eaton. “It worked out beautifully.”
“The Sounding” will be screened at 7 p.m. July 14 and 12:30 p.m. July 15 at the Waterville Opera House, as part of the Maine International Film Festival. There are nearly 100 films screening at this year’s festival over the course of its 10 days; some other highlights are listed below.
Fresh and new
Much of MIFF’s programming is centered on exciting new films from all over the country and the world; some of the highlights this year include “The Trip to Spain,” another comedic travelogue from British comic actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, 3:30 p.m. July 17 (Waterville Opera House) and 6:30 p.m. July 20 (Railroad Square Cinema); the Spanish family comedy-drama “Summer 1993,” 3:30 p.m. July 20 (Waterville Opera House) and 6 p.m. July 22 (Railroad Square), “Paradise,” a Russian wartime drama nominated for an Academy Award, 6 p.m. July 15 and 9 p.m July 18 (both at Railroad Square) and “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World,” about Native Americans in rock music, which will close out MIFF 7 p.m. July 23 at the Waterville Opera House.
MIFF always shows movie classics, offering rare chances for film fans to see iconic movies on the big screen. This year is no exception; some highlights include a 75th anniversary 35mm print of the Disney classic “Bambi,” set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 19 at the Waterville Opera House; there will be a lecture about the art of “Bambi” the day prior, at noon on Tuesday, July 18 at the Colby College Museum of Art. Other classics to be shown include “The Shawshank Redemption,” 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 15; “Double Indemnity,” 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 19; and the 1930s romantic comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch, “Trouble in Paradise,” 9:30 p.m. July 21 and 3:30 p.m. July 22; all at the Waterville Opera House.
More from Maine
In addition to “The Sounding,” there are a number of Maine films in the schedule this year; they include feature films like “Mop Cap: An Alopecia Story,” by Belfast-based filmmaker Nicolle Littrell, 6 p.m. July 16 and 12:15 p.m. July 22 (Railroad Square); “Henry David Thoreau, Surveyor of the Soul,” a documentary by Maine-based filmmaker Huey, 3:30 p.m. July 15 and 18 (Waterville Opera House); and the yearly Maine Shorts program, featuring film Maine short films, 9:30 p.m. July 18 and 3:30 p.m. July 22 and 23, all at Railroad Square Cinema.
MIFF this year will honor actress Lauren Hutton with its yearly mid-life achievement award, accompanied by screenings of her films. Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins will be honored with MIFF’s first-ever Karl Struss Legacy Award, accompanied by screenings of his films. And, on a sadder note, longtime festival friend, director Jonathan Demme, who passed away earlier this year, will be remembered with a number of screenings of his movies.
A full schedule can be found online at www.miff.org.