THEY WHO SURROUND US
This film deals with universal themes through the lens of a deeply personal story. Iconic imagery and archetypal story elements that are universally understood. How we must go into the darkness that will inevitably be part of all of our paths and then summon the courage to find our way through it.
Inclusion StatementUkrainians and Ukrainian culture is extremely under represented in the film industry. I'm making a film showcasing Ukrainian culture and the Ukrainians that settled in my hometown of Vegreville, Alberta. I'm involving members and leaders of the Ukrainian community to ensure an accurate portrayal .
About The Project
A little over a year ago, I began researching my ancestors and our Ukrainian heritage. This journey began the process of writing the narrataive feature film, THEY WHO SURROUND US
I remember bringing images of my ancestors when they first arrived from Ukraine into a Creative Dream Workshop stating, ‘I want to give my ancestors their voice.’
Today I realize -
they are giving me mine.
Last year marked a major turning point in my life and in my creative journey. My dad and I drove to Hairy HIll, Alberta where the house he grew up in was located. I stood there, with my father imagining him as a boy in that house.
Then we drove with my mom to Ranfurly, to the plot of land where the farmhouse she grew up in had once been. We drove the route she would sometimes walk from town to her farm. It was roughly 9 miles.
That began hours and hours of time spent together, as a family, sitting around our kitchen table in the house I grew up in, in Vegreville, Alberta, looking at photographs of our ancestors. It was, and continues to be, some of the most precious time spent with my family, piecing together our family history. Piecing together the lives of those who came before us. The more time we spent doing it, the deeper our connection to one another and to our ancestors became. It gave me a feeling of belonging unlike anything I had ever before felt. A sense of conection to something deep and meaningful within me.
I began the process of creating paintings inspired by photographs of my ancestors and I began working with a process called Creative Dreamwork, a technique used to bring unconsious imagery and impulses to one's creative work.
I found myself being pulled deeper and deeper into discovering and uncovering more about my ancestors lives. As I continued I became aware of a story that was beginning to form in my imagination. It started with a farmer. I didn't know who this farmer was but I had the strong sense that he had a story and that it was my job to tap into it and tell it. To give him voice. I continued painting and continued working with images from my dreams and the story began to unfold. The next thing that came to me was a sense of this farmer's deep faith, but a faith that had somehow been broken and the deep sense of loss that went along with that break. Then I had the image of a forest and the idea of a beautiful voice coming from deep within it. A voice that was beckoning the farmer into the woods.
I imagined him following the voice and finding a beautiful woman singing deep within the woods. Her voice and her presence filled him with a sense of safety and a sense of hope. She helped him summon the courage to continue traveling deep into the darkness that had befallen him and his family. I knew that the woman was going to stay with him on his journey until he had found his way through the woods and back into the light. The process of allowing this story to emerge, a story deeply connected to my history and my Ukrainian heritage has given me a new sense of purpose and meaning in my life. I've come to understand the importance of learning, understanding and embracing one's ancestral history and cultural heritage. I want all those that see this film and those that follow along and support me on my journey of making it to experience the deep sense of connectedness and belonging that I have come to feel. I want to encourage others to dig deep into their ancestors' lives and to keep their stories and history alive.
I'm 53 years old, I've been working as an actor in film and television for over 30 years and I've never played a character of Ukrainian descent nor have I seen a film focusing on Ukrainians and their culture. I've never even auditioned for a character of Ukrainian descent. So I decided that it was going to be up to me to create my own opportunity and the opportunity to tell a story focusing on a Ukrainian family and the cultural legacy of the Ukrainian people. I've given myself the task of doing my part to bring more awareness and exposure to Ukrainians through the medium of film and it is a task that I am grateful and honored to take on. I think it is a big undertaking but one that I am ready to tackle. I have already started building an amazing team of people to embark on this journey with me. Actors, musicians, advisors and members and leaders of the Ukrainian community, but I want and need my community to continue to grow in order to accomplish my goal. I believe that the more we are exposed to different cultures and different communities in a way that builds a sense of connection and empathy the closer we will come to understanding that what makes us different should be embraced but what makes us the same, that deep understanding that we are all interconnected, is what makes us human.
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About This Team
I've been working as an actor for over 30 years. I've worked on stage as well as in film and television. I've worked with Academy Award winning writer-directors John Patrick Shanley and Paolo Sorrentino and Tony nominated director Wilson Milam. I've had recurring roles and guest star roles on over 50 network and cable television shows. I played the 'real' Don Draper on the landmark show, MAD MEN and I've directed two critically acclaimed productions of plays in Los Angeles. But there is one thing I haven't done. One thing which I've NOW begun and the experience is by far the most rewarding and meaningful creative and life adventure I've embarked upon. I found MY voice and vision and I'm trusting and embracing it. I've embarked on telling the stories that I want to tell and this first one is a deeply meaningful and profound one because it was inspired by my journey into researching my family history and my Ukrainian heritage. The process of doing this has given me a deep sense of connection and a deep sense of belonging that is profound and that has been the jumping off point for developing this story and this film. I feel like I've been tasked with the honor of giving my ancestors voice. Telling their stories and telling the stories of the many Ukrainians that left their country behind in order to make better lives for themselves and for their family members and it is my hope that all who see it will be given what this journey has given and continues to give me, a deep sense of who we are, where each of us comes from and to those who came before us.
My team consists of industry veterans and experts, who also happen to be dear friends. I feel my best work always happens when I'm working with talented friends whom I trust and respect.
Craig Richey - Composer - Sundance Fellow and Composer's Lab Advisor
Hailed by Film Music Magazine for his ‘effortlessly gliding melody’, Craig is a native of North Carolina and a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music. He is a Sundance Fellow having participated in the Sundance Institute’s 2006 Composers Lab and recently returned as an advisor & mentor. He has scored over 30 films working with such notable writer-directors as Miranda Bailey, Nicole Holofcener, RJ Cutler, Jeremy Leven, and Seth Gordon. His latest film You Can Choose Your Family directed by Bailey, starring Jim Gaffigan, Anna Gun, and Samantha Matthis, is produced by Cold Iron Pictures and Imagine Entertainment (Ron Howard & Brian Grazer) and premieres at the LA Film Festival in September. Other noteworthy films include Lovely & Amazing, Friends With Money, Wonderful World, Girl On A Bicycle, The Gymnast, A Marine Story, The King Of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, The September Issue, the Showtime original The World According To Dick Cheney, and the HULU original documentary Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie directed by Andrea Nevins and currently airing on HULU. Craig also created the Film Music Intensive at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, a ten-day program pairing film composing students with directors, mentoring them through the collaborative process of scoring the directors’ short films, and focusing on the director-composer relationship.
Michael Wilkinson - Academy Award Nominated Costume Designer
Academy Award nominated costume designer, Michael Wilkinson was born in Sydney, Australia. He is known for his work on American Hustle (2013), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and TRON: Legacy (2010).
Personal Quotes (2)
[on updating the Superman suit for the sequel] There are some subtle differences in the belt, the buckle and the glyph (shield). Zack loved the idea that there is some Kryptonian script embedded in the suit (at the point where the deltoid meets the bicep). He gave me this fantastic quote that he wanted us to translate into the Kryptonian script and incorporate into the suit. The quote deals with the nature of power and the responsibility that comes with it.
[on designing the new Batman suit] Zack said that the most important thing for our Batman is that he come across as a really hulking big guy who's super pumped up. He's going to be even bigger than our Superman in silhouette. His strength is not through armor and gadgets, he's basically a tower of muscle. Zack is a huge fan of Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. And we looked a lot at that silhouette when we were creating our silhouette. The cowl I am super proud of. There's always been this huge thing about can he actually turn his head. It does allow full range of movement and he can do all his stunts in the cowl.
Deborah Aquila - Advisor
Deb Aquila began her career after graduating from NYU’s Tisch School of Arts and the Stella Adler Conservatory, where she spent six years studying script analysis with Ms. Adler and advanced scene study techniques, in addition to her academic studies in history and psychology at NYU. Before moving to Los Angeles to cast “The Shawshank Redemption”, Ms. Aquila had completed casting for over 18 films in New York, most notably, “sex, lies and videotape”, “The Last Exit to Brooklyn” and “Zebrahead”. In 1993, she became the Senior Vice President of Features Casting for Paramount Pictures. Ms. Aquila has been recognized 17 times by the Casting Society of America, winning three Artios Awards for her work in “Red”, “My Week With Marilyn”, and “La La Land”.
After departing Paramount in 1999, Ms. Aquila returned to the independent casting world and began to resume her teaching career. She started “Adler in LA” with Ron Burrus, the master teacher who was her mentor at the Adler Conservatory. When that program was firmly established, Ms. Aquila taught Script Analysis for Larry Moss until forming the Aquila Morong Studio in 2009 with her partner, Donna Morong. In addition to her casting work, Ms. Aquila enjoys a full schedule of teaching and private coaching.
Tessa Ferrer - Actress - Tessa Ferrer was born on March 30, 1986 in Los Angeles, California, USA as Tessa Rose Ferrer. She is an actress and producer, known for her series regular roles on Grey's Anatomy and Mr. Mercedes, Insidious: The Last Key and Extant. She will next be seen as Nurse Duckett in Catch-22, directed and executive produced by George Clooney.
Jackie Katzman - Actress - Jackie Katzman was born and raised in Chicago and lives in Los Angeles. She is a graduate of Columbia College in Chicago. Jackie recently wrote, directed, produced and starred in the short film, The Strangeness You Feel. The film so far has been selected for the 28th Annual Cinequest Film Festival, New Filmmakers Film Festival LA, Ashland International Film Festival, The 9th Annual Lady Filmmaker Film festival in Los Angeles and Canada's Dawson City International Film Festival. The Strangeness You Feel, has won Best Short Film, Best First Film and Best Actress. Vicky Jenson (director of Shrek) on The Strangeness You Feel: "It is a short that I think not only represents the emerging "female gaze" it is also a beautiful nod to the languidness of Italian cinema.” TV/Film include: Family Tree, Strong Medicine, 100 girls, Totally Confused. She recently acted in the feature film, The Rest Of Us, which was produced by Mary Stuart Masterson. Most recent theater (NYC): Ludic Proxy w/ The Play Company at SoHo Rep. Additional theater includes (Chicago): Victory Gardens, Northlight Theatre, National Jewish Theater, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and more. Favorite productions include: "The American Plan" (Dir: Jeff Ginsberg), "On The Bum" and "Sirens Of Titan" (Dir: David Cromer), and "Antigone" and "Hurricane" (Dir: Anna Shapiro). Jackie has written two TV pilots that are currently in development: a half hour comedy, FREE BIRD, and an hour dramedy, STONE, (which has made it to the second round for this years Sundance Episodic Lab 2018). She is an alumna of Joan Scheckel's Episodic Lab as well as continuing studies with Creative Dream Work teacher, Kim Gillingham. She looks forward to directing her full length feature film, “Hummingbird” (which has made it to the next round for 2019 Sundance Developmental film lab).
Sarah Baker-Grillo - Advisor/Manager - Sarah, the co-producer of Her Story, was born and raised in Los Angeles, working her way through many different aspects of the Hollywood machine. Sarah graduated from New York University Tisch School of the Arts a Lew Wasserman Scholar and a Founding Member of the Tisch Talent Guild, an agency run for students by students. She continued to serve the NYU community as Co-Chair of the Tisch West Alumni Council (2007-2008). Post grad, Sarah worked her way up from the AD dept. to the producer level on studio films including Elizabethtown, War of the Worlds, Rent, Mission Impossible III, and The Eye starring Jessica Alba. Simultaneously, she developed and produced the short films, Tis the Season, selected as a finalist for the Gen-Art & Delta Airlines competition, Manos Partidas, winner of the Audience Choice Award at the Beverly Hills HD Film Festival, as well as Reverse Parthenogenesis starring Amber Benson and directed by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, winner of the Audience Choice Award at Dragon Con. In 2010, Sarah expanded her passion to working with actors as a Manager, forming her own company, Bright Alliance Media, or as she likes to call it: BAM! BAM develops projects with clients to further their individual craft and reach their full potential. At the moment, her number one client and most recent production is baby Indy who just turned one!
Larissa Pohoreski - Actress/Vocalist - Larissa Pohoreski is a multidisciplinary performer, production designer, and visual artist currently residing in Edmonton. She has worked both locally and internationally, including performances across Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Poland and Ukraine, as a vocalist, musician and dancer. She was recently named as one of Alberta Council for Ukrainian Arts (ACUA)’s Top 30 Under 30 for her diverse skillsets and contributions to Alberta’s Ukrainian arts community. Larissa’s visual art has been featured at the Art Gallery of Alberta, Latitude53, and in 2016 her mixed media piece, Hamaliya, was chosen for the Shevchenko Foundation Bookmark Campaign and was printed on 35,000 bookmarks distributed across Canada. She is the inaugural Common Ground Arts Society (CGAS) Fresh AiR artist, and successfully wrote and produced an immersive site-specific theatrical production in the Edmonton River Valley (Before the River, 2017). Under the guise of Mavka Theatre, she creates work that merges contemporary aesthetic with folkloric inspiration. Among her many projects, she is currently deep in the development of her solo multidisciplinary show Moonshine, slated to tour in 2019.