The Sundance Film Festival has evolved over the years, playing host to bigger names, bigger films than in its heyday. But even still, it's a place where a little indie can still go, break out and make a name for those involved. In 2011, that was the case for Bellflower, a low-budget, genre-blending movie that rattled audiences, peaked the interest of every distributor in town and found champions (Oscilloscope Laboratories) who took it on tour, released in theaters and gifted it to the world in a pristine Blu-ray package. The Sundance fairy tale in a nutshell.
Those privy to the magic of Bellflower have been anxiously awaiting an announcement from Coatwolf, the ragtag team of filmmakers who brought the movie to life, as to what they would be up to next. Now we know: Bellflower producer/actor Vincent Grashaw is moving into the director's chair for Coldwater, a feature film that "sheds light on issues yet to be brought to screen, exposing the stark realities behind juvenile rehabilitation in America." Coldwater follows a teenage boy attempting to survive a wilderness bootcamp, where "a retired war colonel and his counselors break inmate’s spirits to correct delinquent behavior." A far cry from the post-apocalyptic romance of writer/director/actor Evan Glodell's Bellflower, but a story that should fit perfectly into Grashaw's wheelhouse.
"Definitely a low budget, but much more than we had on Bellflower," Grashaw tells me. "A more focused, organized version of Bellflower." If Grashaw picked up any specific lesson from Bellflower, it was not pulling any punches or bowing down to general consensus. He recounts that early screenings of Bellflower when general reception was beyond negative, leaving him and Glodell "depressed." Then Sundance happened — and everything changed. "From November 2010 to early this year we were on the Bellflower roller coaster. It changed our lives. Everything after Sundance was Oscilloscope's doing, essentially. Adam Yauch passing away…I only knew him for a year, but it was still pretty emotional. In effect, he changed our lives." Sticking to their guns was a major of that success, and that indie spirit will continue on with Coldwater.
Grashaw has been living with the grisly story for a good portion of his adult life, noting that the script has "got more blood on it than Passion of the Christ." Grashaw began writing the movie back in '99, but only now, post-Bellflower, back when he first discovered the horrors of the detention camps. "It was interesting because the topic, the realities behind juvenile detention and wilderness programs — it was bad back then. And over the course of ten years now, more than that researching, seeing how bad it's gotten, and it's still not a topic people acknowledge or talk about. Nothings changed. If anything, things have gotten worse." The movie, to be shot in Northern California this August, will continue Grashaw's passion for raw, intense storytelling and delivering an emotional truth. There is violence. Some pretty disturbing things that happen. But it's all very real. It'll be shot with a raw, realistic approach. It's not for horror or shock value. A lot of it is based on…whether it's stuff we heard that has happened, or stuff that will get it across what really happens in these places."
"Evan and I are completely different filmmakers," Grashaw explains. "He's a visionary guy — the stuff he does, people have never seen. I like these more intimate, human condition stories that deal with choices and the consequences there are. That's the beauty of filmmakers in general, everyone's different." Grashaw's adolescent-centric script may not have room for any of the Bellflower cast, but Coatwolf's familial relationship should open the doors for further collaborations. "I've got quite a bit of the Coatwolf crew working on it. We're all kind of family. Jonathan Keevil (composer/editor on Bellflower) may help out with some of the music on this, he's trying to develop his feature which he wants to direct. That'll be a Coatwolf movie. We all take turns and help each other out." Also in line with Bellflower's sensibilities is Grashaw's decision to go with a cast of unknowns. "I don't think anyone from Bellflower is going to appear in it, but it's not going to have any names. It's always been in my gut to go without anyone recognizable. I want the focus to be on the story. But the casting process has been amazing. I've been finding these home run actors, they're all gems, they're going to be stars." The bittersweet news: Glodell is deep in his next script and won't be building any new camera rigs or muscle cars for Coldwater. That said, Grashaw's film should have no problem delivering plenty of its own gut-wrenching moments.
Grashaw describes Coldwater as an "ambitious script" with "a lot of characters, a lot going on, a lot scenes," but that isn't going to stop him from working steadily to deliver the film in time for Sundance 2013. The winter can't come soon enough.
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[Photo Credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images]