‘Familiar Strangers’ has extensive Music City ties

Thursday, December 4, 2008 at 1:01am
'Familiar Strangers,' which opens Friday at Green Hills Cinema, is a quirky family drama about dogs, donkeys and denial.

Though not set in Nashville, the independent film Familiar Strangers does have some extensive Music City ties.

The movie makes its Nashville debut Friday at Green Hills Cinema, and the cast includes Nashville actor D.J. Qualls. Co-producer Matt Parker also comes from Nashville, as does the film’s editor Rachel Goodlett-Katz, who is now also the editor for the CW series Gossip Girl.

And Nashville is one of several regional markets that the producers consider vital to the movie’s long-term success.

“There’s been such an influx of independent films over the last few years that now you really have to try some different strategies in terms of making them grow and getting them out to the public,” Parker said. “Just as one example, in 1995 there were about 500 submissions for independent films to the Sundance festival. By 2005 that number had increased to 5,000. But with this glut, you’ve got a much tougher time now finding funding, getting publicity and getting the movie to the public.”

What Parker is doing with Familiar Strangers may very well become the model for indie film distribution and promotion in the future

“We started out in a couple of markets in Virginia, then we went to Kansas City. This weekend we debut in Nashville and Knoxville and also in Richmond, Va. We’re putting our own money into this end, using key markets to do our test research and see by the response how much to expand from that point,” he said. “We’ve put in more of our own money, are using local firms like Kaleidoscope Media here in Nashville, and really trying a grass roots approach.”

Familiar Strangers marks a thematic departure from the usual indie fare in that the film has adopted an interesting juggling act from a premise standpoint.

“This is a family film, but we’ve made a thinking person’s family film,” Parker said. “We’re looking at a situation where adult children are coming back to visit their parents for Thanksgiving. You’ve got a three-day period where everyone is crowded together, and all the tensions are coming back to the forefront. It’s the type of film that you can take your children to see, or you can go with your elderly parents or grandparents and have no problems with the content. Yet it’s got some challenging elements, and won’t be just a lightweight, escapist type of movie.”

Besides Qualls, another bonus for the film is the presence of Nikki Reed in the role of Allison. Reed’s profile was already sizable due to past appearances in the television show The O.C. and the film Thirteen, but now she’s also featured in the hit film Twilight.

“That’s been a real stroke of good fortune for us,” Parked acknowledged. “We got her involved because D.J. is one of her best friends. He told her about the project and how much he enjoyed being in it and what the thought about the script, and she got involved that way. Both of them are doing the film for much less than what they would normally get, and that’s always the advantage of indie films.

“Actors know that they won’t be able to get as much money for the role, but that they’ll get the chance to take some chances and do some things that will help them grow as performers. We’re very happy about their presence in the project and thrilled at the quality of their work.”

Though he now lives in New York, Parker has maintained his ties to his hometown. He’s been involved with a number of films the last two years, which have been featured in the Nashville film — one he calls “among the best and most diverse of any in the business.”

He thinks that the message about the changing nature of relationships between parents and children will be well received in Nashville.

“Part of our strategy in starting out with the film in Southern markets rather than the usual New York/Los Angeles route involved message as much as money,” Parker said. “We feel that this movie has heartland appeal, and offers a good, credible story, yet doesn’t pose some of the problems with language or violence that you get in some other independent projects.

“We’d certainly like to eventually expand things into the big cities, but for now we’re very happy to have it in places like Nashville, Charlottesville, Virginia and Kansas City. I think they’ll help us really establish the film as a quality production and hopefully generate some interest and attention to it,” he said.

What: The Nashville premiere of Familiar Strangers

When: 12:30 p.m. Friday, other showings at 2:50, 5:10, 7:25 and 9:55 p.m.

Where: Regal Green Hills Cinema, 3815 Green Hills Village Drive

Cost: $9.75, $7 (matinee before 3 p.m.), $6.25 (children), $6.75 (senior), $8 (student)

Info: 269-5910

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