by Gary Kout
Local audiences eagerly awaiting the theatrical release of Redwood Highway need wait no longer. The feature-length film, made in Southern Oregon and starring two-time Academy Award nominee Shirley Knight and screen legend Tom Skerritt, opens on Friday, May 23rd at Coming Attractions Theatres in Ashland, Grants Pass, and Crescent City, CA. Positive reviews from top industry trade magazines Variety and The Hollywood Reporter are already rolling in, confirming what festival audiences experienced during its award-winning festival run, including its premiere at the Ashland Independent Film Festival last year: Redwood Highway is a solid piece of filmmaking with strong performances, writing and direction.
Redwood Highway follows the character of Marie Vaughn (Shirley Knight) who decides to sneak away from the senior community where she lives in Grants Pass, and walk over 80 miles to the coast to attend her granddaughter’s wedding. Along the way she proves that you’re never too old to have a great adventure, and heal your life.
Exhibiting real Hollywood production values, much of the crew and cast hail from the region and the entire film was shot locally. Shirley Knight’s home at the beginning of the film is the Mountain Meadows active retirement community in Ashland. Local actors from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival include Catherine Coulson, Danforth Comins, Brent Hinkley, Barret O’Brien and J.P. Phillips.
“Redwood Highway was a thrill to make and so we’re excited for audiences to experience the beauty of Southern Oregon and fall in love with these characters,” Gary Lundgren, the director and co-screenwriter said. “Our entire cast and crew is proud to have a theatrical release around the country and we’re grateful for the enthusiastic responses so far.”
Gary Kout, a producer on the film and the Executive Director of Southern Oregon Film and Television, is very proud of the level of work being done locally. “The strong skills of the local crew and actors, our beautiful locations and the film-friendly attitude in Southern Oregon contribute to a robust and growing environment for making movies.” As proof of that, Ashland was named the #2 Top Town on MovieMaker magazine’s list Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2014.
After winning several best film awards at indie festivals, Redwood Highway is getting its share of attention in Hollywood, and the director and producers of the film have strong reason to believe their film might start a whole movement, as it focuses on the largest, most underserved audience in the world – people over 50.
“It’s hard to believe that 45% of the population would be ignored at the box office,” James Twyman, the producer and co-screenwriter of Redwood Highway said. “Today most films are made for people under twenty-five. Interest in story-driven films with a protagonist over the age of sixty are rare since the executives who are making decisions don’t believe older people go to the movies in big enough numbers.” Twyman has launched Ageless Cinema to make films specifically to meet that need.
“I saw Redwood Highway at a film festival and I think it’s an important film for everyone to see, in every generation,” Ashland resident Jan Sneider-Brown, 76, said. “It’s a film about a strong senior protagonist who overcomes great odds to heal her life, and a journey familiar to what many seniors encounter in their own quest to heal. It’s about the human journey more than just one person.”
Most impressive is the lead performance of Knight, as noted by Stephen Farber in his review in The Hollywood Reporter: “It is always satisfying when a fine actor gets a chance to be rediscovered. [Shirley Knight] relishes her return to the limelight in Redwood Highway, and audiences will be delighted by her warm, stirring performance.”
Other veteran actors, like Tom Skerritt and James Le Gros (Drugstore Cowboy, “Justice”), received similar high praise in this and other reviews and fill in the spaces wonderfully, while newer faces like Zena Grey (“House”) and Michelle Lombardo (“Californication”) bring nuanced performances and texture that helps the film turn the corner from fun to profound.
Gary Lundgren, Gary Kout, James Twyman, co-producer Anne Lundgren, as well as crew and local cast members, will be on hand to answer questions at special screenings in Ashland on May 23rd and May 26th. More info at www.filmsouthernoregon.org/pages/film-insider-series.