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GAMBIER — The Dance, Drama & Film Department at Kenyon College will debut its first-ever full-length feature film April 18-20 in Hill Theater. The film is produced by drama Professor Jonathan Tazewell and his students, who worked alongside professional actors.
The film, “Gotta Get down to It,” was shot on location in January and February principally at Kenyon College, which served as the film’s setting of Sedalia College, a fictional Ohio liberal arts school.
The three-day opportunity for the Kenyon community to attend the film’s debut will show audiences a “test screening,” or rough cut. Audience question and answer periods will follow the showings.
Each screening is at 8 p.m. and is $5 per person.
The final editing of the film is ongoing, with the final music and sound mixing to occur over the summer, Tazewell said. The film is being prepped for entering film festival consideration later this year.
Tazewell describes “Gotta Get down to It” as “intense,” built on conflict relevant to today’s times while also harkening back to the so-called “counterculture” protests of the mid 1960s through early 1970s. The film takes its name from a line in the song “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, concerning four Kent State University students who were shot and killed by members of the Ohio National Guard in 1970. They had been protesting the U.S. bombing of Cambodia, which widened the scope of the Vietnam War.
“This is a fictional narrative that I wrote and directed in collaboration with my students, colleagues, and professionals, including many Kenyon alumni, during this year,” said Tazewell, a Kenyon alumnus from the Class of 1984. “The story does concern itself with multiple socio-political issues, including race, gender, and issues of freedom of expression, but it is also the story of the bonds between peers and faculty in small colleges and universities.”
The lead actors in the film are Damian Young, who portrays Professor Riggs, the antagonist; and New York-based actress Claire Fort as Val, the protagonist and also a faculty member. Young, who attended Kenyon during the early 1980s, has many professional acting roles to his credit, Tazewell said, including in the series Law & Order, Ozark, The Black List, and The Greatest Showman.
Much of the narrative drama will be built around how far educators and students are willing to go in today’s society to exercise free speech, freedom of expression and civil disobedience, and the risks they take in order to do so.
“What is the nature of civil disobedience in this day and age?” Tazewell posed. “There’s a lot of talk in the film about free speech, and free expression, how it gets interpreted, and who gets to restrict it based on what they want and their beliefs.”
Fort, a 2007 Kenyon graduate, passed some acting advice during filming along to Teddy Hannah-Drullard, a junior at Kenyon who plays “Trey,” the lead student actor in the film. She is the student activist protégé of sorts to Fort’s character, giving Hannah-Drullard a considerable amount of lines to learn.
“I was insecure in the beginning, having no previous acting experience except back in grade school, and some musical theater experience when I was 13 or 14,” Hannah-Drullard said. “I played a (singing) rock in ‘Once on This Island,’ and then played a tree in the same musical (the next year). I asked Claire questions like, ‘Do I have enough facial expression for the scene?’ She told me I was doing a good job and passed some tips along.”
Hannah-Drullard, who is from Philadelphia, auditioned for the lead student role last fall after breaking her leg during a fall. She was a Kenyon student-athlete at the time on the track team, skilled in the discus, shot-put and hammer throw.
“When I broke my leg in the fall so that I couldn’t do track, I was bored and looking for something to occupy my time,” she said.
Now, acting appears to be in her blood — with some “fake” blood of hers visible during filming. She explained that she plays not only a student activist but one who is part of the LGBTQ community. She is attacked during a civil unrest scene by an “anonymous” individual, calling the fight scene training she learned “my favorite part of the whole experience.” She learned how to “get thrown around” from a large man on set with a professional wrestling background. Her makeup, including bruises and blood, was applied by a theatrical makeup artist who has worked for the Syfy Channel.
Masen Colucci, a Kenyon senior from Bloomingdale Hills, Illinois, said he has enjoyed the learning experience and responsibility that goes along with being a key part of the approximately 40 Kenyon students involved in producing the film. Those students have involved themselves through three classes centered around the film, at least in part: Making the Feature Film Part 1, a class offered in the fall of 2018; Making the Feature Film Part 2, which is ongoing this semester; and Editing and Post Production Theory, also ongoing this semester.
Colucci took both feature film courses. He has served as first assistant of camera, charged with responsibility of maintaining all cameras used on sets, including their continuous power supplies.
“I wore focus pullets around my neck during filming,” Colucci said. “They are devices making sure (the cameras) are in the right focus during a scene — or out of focus in the background, whatever was needed.”
Colucci, who is interested in film as a career, said he had the advantage in 2017 of taking a Kenyon course from William Adashek, a 2005 Kenyon alumnus and accomplished cinematographer whose education and training came in part from the American Film Institute. That course helped give Colucci the confidence that he could take on the task of maintaining all field cameras and knowing their operations, inside and out. But for other Kenyon students taking the Making the Feature Film classes, most did not have a problem expressing how they wanted to contribute to film production, he offered.
“In a feature film, there are so many positions to fill and so many things to be done,” Colucci said. “We were each offered our top three choices of how we would like to help — from script writing to set location camera operation to editing and sound.”
“Gotta Get down to It” has an extensive cast, and a run time somewhere around 90 minutes. Other Kenyon alumni who are part of the film as actors or in other film roles, and their class years, are: Chris Ellsworth, 1996; Cory Koller, 1998; Dave Heithaus, 1999; Brendan Griffin, 2002; Tom Frank, 2003; Leeman Kessler, 2004; Martha Gregory, 2010; and Tristan Biber, 2017.