FILMMAKER SPOTLIGHT: Martha Shane, Director of NARROWSBURG
July 8, 2020
In NARROWSBURG, A French film producer and a mafioso-turned-actor turn the tiny town of Narrowsburg, New York, upside down, peddling Hollywood dreams that it can become the “Sundance of the East.” Persuading the townspeople that they can be movie stars, the pair create a fever pitch of excitement, launching a film festival and shooting a gangster movie titled FOUR DEADLY REASONS. As this stranger-than-fiction tale unspools, it becomes a meditation on the power of cinema, and the fine line between dreams and delusions.
SFF program director Jeff Schmidt spoke with the film’s director Martha Shane ahead of the festival – NARROWSBURG screens during Week 1 (Friday, July 10 – Thursday, July 16) of our virtual Salem Film Fest and tickets can be purchased here.
Jeff Schmidt: Was it difficult to get people to talk about the film festival and FOUR DEADLY REASONS? Or were they just as eager to be in your movie as they were to be in Richie’s film?
Martha Shane: There was definitely some hesitance for the people who lost money or who felt most betrayed by the Castellanos. Some of those people had been promised roles in the movie, so when I came along, asking if they would agree to be in another movie (mine), it makes sense that they would think twice! I think that often when folks get conned or scammed, there’s some shame and embarrassment that accompanies the experience, and so that was definitely an obstacle to overcome for some people, and I’m so grateful to those who decided to participate. And some folks ultimately decided that it would be too painful to talk about the experience again in detail so they chose not to be part of it.
For those who didn’t get ripped off, I think it was a lot easier to go on camera! I think Narrowsburg, given what a tiny place it is, has an incredibly high number of great storytellers — maybe the best ratio of great storytellers per mile anywhere. So there were definitely a good number of folks who were happy to take their chances on the big screen once again.
JS: Richie is quite the charmer, why do you think so many people were drawn to him?
MS: Richie always felt like a character out of a movie to me — larger than life. If you’re living in a small town (or anywhere for that matter!), and a guy walks into your world who could easily be straight out of the cast of GOODFELLAS, you’re gonna pay attention. Plus, he was friendly, outgoing, personable. He would apparently walk into the local restaurant on Main Street and pay for everyone’s coffees. He was a generous guy…until he started conning people.
JS: There are a lot of twists and turns in this story, did you expect that when you started the project?
MS: I knew some of the twists and turns right off the bat, but there were others that definitely surprised me! And those discoveries, large and small, kept me going during the many years of trying to get this project made. I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll say that the part of the story that I knew well from the very beginning was the part that takes place during the last fifteen minutes of the film in NYC. All the details of what really happened in Narrowsburg were a discovery for me. As a kid, I was obsessed with mystery novels, and I really love the process of investigation — pulling on every little thread to see where it leads.
JS: What do you hope audiences will take away after watching your film?
MS: Most of all, I hope it will provide entertainment and enjoyable distraction during this incredibly unusual and difficult time. But I also hope it prompts people to think about the power and the romance around cinema and filmmaking, as well as the line between ambition and delusion. It’s interesting to think about what movies mean in our culture and why we care so much about them, especially during this time when so much production has been shut down and so many movie theaters shuttered.