Filmmaker cousins return to Rappahannock to pick up where the story left off

‘Seventy-five percent of our $115 thousand dollar budget will be poured right back into the Rappahannock community’

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A poster for the film “What She Said,” which will be shot this winter in Rappahannock County.

The plot and timing is striking: how trauma affects a sexual assault victim well after the fact, until an entire community rallies around their friend and sister, taking on the trauma as their own.

Rather than playing out before the Senate Judiciary Committee, this fictional drama will come to life in Rappahannock County, where Riley Hollow rises into Shenandoah Park, at the same house where two up-and-coming filmmaker cousins spent family occasions together.

“The mountains of Rappahannock hold so many memories for me and now as an adult I cannot wait to showcase its beauty on the big screen,” says Amy Northup, director of What She Said, a feature length 90-minute film to be shot in early 2019 at her family’s farm west of Flint Hill.

If the New York resident’s name rings bells, her father, Jim Northup, retired in 2017 after a distinguished 36-year career with the National Park Service, his final post superintendent of Shenandoah. Amy’s artistic mother, Phyllis Northup, is a Flint Hill watercolorist who specializes in national park landscapes.

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Left to right, the “What She Said” film production team includes cousins Amy Northup and Juliana Jurenas, both with Rappahannock roots, and Jenny Lester.

“My dad’s career took us around to many national parks,” Amy recalls, but whenever the question “where is home” was asked she would always reply Rappahannock County, Virginia. “The Riley Hollow farm is the only place I’ve ever called home.”

Amy’s cousin, who also spent quality time at the remote Rappahannock farm, is Juliana Jurenas, who as lead producer for Shallow Graves films will produce, edit and act in the movie. Her blossoming career has taken her from Virginia to Los Angeles and now New York.

According to Juliana, filming for the full-scale professional production — in the “ultra low budget” level of the SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild) labor union — will begin as quick as the calendar flips to 2019.

“As soon as hunting season ends in mid-January. We will prep for a week and shoot through mid-February, all at the farm in Riley Hollow,” she says, anticipating a strict 26-day shoot, followed by three-plus weeks of post-production.

The tight schedule is for good reason. Funding for the project is through Seed&Spark, which apart from showcasing brand new films helps support exclusive budding filmmakers.

“And I am ecstatic that we are among the top 40 for a contest that Seed&Spark hosts called the Hometown Heroes Rally,” reveals Amy, who among other hats worn is associate artistic director of the Animus Theatre Company.

“In order to qualify, you must shoot a film in your hometown, pouring at least 75 percent of the film’s budget back into local resources. That means 75 percent of our $115 thousand dollar budget,” she says, “will be poured right back into the Rappahannock community.”

In fact, Amy continues, the all-women production team, which includes writer, producer and actor Jenny Lester, is “looking for ways to connect and promote our work within the local community prior to production. The entire cast/crew will be staying in the Flint Hill area during our shoot and we want nothing more than to invite the community to be a part of this exciting endeavor and help us tell this story.”

Which includes, she says, “involving local resources such as catering services, distilleries, and local non-profits as partners, to boost both our cause and their own in a joint effort . . . to promote the work we’re doing for the film and for the area itself.”

For What She Said the producers have paired with veteran filmographer Alexa Wolf, who will be director of photography.

“We’re looking to hire a lot of the crew from Virginia,” Amy points out. And from an equipment standpoint what’s not trucked in will be rented in Virginia. Casting will be finalized by the end of November, with pre-production taking place in December before the filming begins. Festival submissions will take place through May, with a premiere and distribution set for next June.

The synopsis of the film mirroring current events in many respects hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“This does come back suddenly to where it’s getting national attention,” says Jenny, who with Amy and Juliana spoke to the Rappahannock News by telephone last week from Canada, just as Christine Ford climbed Capitol Hill and accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

“We’re now seeing this woman up against the system, in this case the Senate Judiciary Committee,” she points out. “Our film really strives to humanize all that. It’s not so much the court [setting] but the community, and how friends and family are affected.”

“I wish this film wasn’t relevant every three or four months,” adds Amy, recalling before Kavanaugh the 2016 prosecution of Stanford University student Brock Turner, who was convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault of a 22-year-old intoxicated and unconscious woman.

“Our film is not just about justice systems and survivors, but how the community responds — and how we treat survivors,” she says.

Without revealing too much of the movie’s plot, Sam, a PhD candidate, should be wrapping up her dissertation, except she’s spent the last year in and out of court pursuing charges against her rapist. Frustrated when the trial gets postponed, she recedes to the remote Rappahannock cabin, effectively ghosting everybody in her life. Until Thanksgiving, when her brother barges in with her closest friends for a pseudo-intervention, trying to convince her to return to the city to bring down her assailant.

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The interior of the Northup family home has changed little since Amy Northup and Juliana Jurenas were girls.

“[W]e’re putting eight twenty-somethings in a pressure cooker of a remote cabin — with no Wi-Fi, yikes — to examine how trauma can still affect a person after they’re seemingly ‘over it,’” the team has explained describing their film as a “kitchen-sink drama with a black comedy heart.”

“It’s not like sexual assault is a subject that’s never been taken on before. It’s the era of #MeToo, after all, and everyone’s throwing in their own ‘too’ cents. Plus, like, hello, how many seasons of SVU [Law & Order: Special Victims Unit] have there been?

“But that piece — the assault piece — is only one tiny fraction of a much larger and more complicated conversation. Yet, it’s where most on-screen stories about assault begin and end. We’re picking up that story a year later. A year into the life of a woman battling depression, trying to finish her PhD, and ultimately treading water.”

For more details about What She Said, including how to participate in the Hometown Heroes campaign, visit www.seedandspark.com/fund/whatshesaid

About John McCaslin 324 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.

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