“Coldwater” is one of the most surprising films I’ve ever seen; not because I had low or high expectations before seeing it. I knew nothing about the premise and only that it was a passion project of Vincent Grashaw who produced the critically acclaimed “Bellflower” from the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. With every scene, twist and performance, my jaw dropped a little bit more. It is a heart-wrenching drama/thriller about an adolescent boy who is sent to a juvenile reform facility after dealing drugs. His past tragically unfolds and his future appears even more bleak, living as an abused inmate. Grashaw has shed light on an issue in our country that few know about. Many teenagers are sent to juvenile rehabilitation facilities, but instead of being helped, they are wrongfully beaten and humiliated mercilessly. Grashaw along with his co-writer Mark Penney have finally given this community of abused youth a voice. Bringing the characters to life are a slew of talented unknowns: PJ Boudousque, who carries the film, as well as James C. Burns, Chris Petrovski, Octavius J. Johnson, Nicholas Bateman and Stephanie Simbari. Each performance delivers a lasting impression. After making its world premiere at the 2013 Southwest Film Festival (SXSW), the film has people talking. Next, “Coldwater” is the Official Selection at the Little Rock Film Festival this month and will screen overseas at the Champs-Elysees Film Festival in June.
Grashaw has gone to great lengths to make this movie a reality. As the director told me himself, “I swear the making of this film has more blood on it than Passion of the Christ.” To continue spreading the word, LATF sat down with him to discuss this incredible independent film.
Coldwater addresses something I don’t believe a lot of people are aware of: abuse in juvenile detention facilities. How did this subject come to you in the first place?
Initially when I had started writing the script, I had only heard of a couple articles about places like this in the media. I remember hearing about some horrible things that had happened to someone in a boarding school that sparked more of an interest. Then I had read about a few deaths that occurred in wilderness camps. It forced me to investigate more into the reality behind the subject matter. Before I knew it, I had dozens of links online that showed there was a major issue in juvenile rehabilitation and no one was being held accountable when things went wrong. I didn’t want to make a preachy film; I wanted the story to stand on its own. Otherwise I would’ve just made a documentary on the subject.
Do you have a personal connection to the subject matter?
Well, I didn’t experience the horrors myself, but I did play on a hockey team with a guy when I was about 15 years old who was abducted in the middle of the night and taken to one of these places. One day he wasn’t at practice and we were all confused. The coach and parents were vague, but I had heard he was taken away. A few years later, I ran into him and it was sad because I noticed a change. He had lost this charm and humorous side to him. It was another reason I chose to write a script on this topic because it was around the same time I started taking my interest in making movies seriously.
The film has been a long time in the making, what was it that really got the wheels rolling?
There were several failed attempts in getting this film made from the year 2000 up until it finally did get made. It just felt like every time it came close to getting made it was like, “oops, sorry, not gonna happen.” There was one point in 2004 when we even had a couple of big names attached on a bigger budget than what the end result was. And that failed. It was too top heavy with producers, among other issues… There was a long period of time where nothing happened and I think I just came to terms with it never getting made. In a way, I think I grew up and moved past it as a filmmaker. But after the “Bellflower” rollercoaster, I met Joe Bilotta of Flying Pig Productions who responded to the script. He asked me how much I needed to make it, and quite literally said, “Let’s do it.” I think it happened in a way any filmmaker would dream a film would get funded. But most cases never turn out that way.
The cast is primarily rising actors. At any point, did you think about casting a name?
After the debacles over the years with having names or not having names, I decided I wanted to make the film with completely unknowns. There was no more confusion about that because I felt it would set a different tone for the audience than if they saw someone they recognized in one of the leads.
PJ Boudousque carries most of the film, what was it about him that was right for the role?
PJ came in to audition and there was something about him. He had no resume, had never been put on camera in his life. We read him for two scenes and it was all I had to go off of. He felt like a drifter to me. He was about to move to NYC, so I panicked a bit and we just cast him after I met with him for lunch to discuss the role. I still didn’t know if he could nail all the emotional beats in the film, but my gut told me he was the guy. So I threw logic out the window and we went with him.
At the end of the day, what kind of message do you want to send with Coldwater?
I want people to enjoy the movie at the end of the day, but I do want to bring awareness to the subject matter that not many people seem to know about. If you were to go online and search wilderness camp lawsuits, or deaths, you’d be appalled. At the end of the day though, I want people to be engaged and lose themselves in a theater for a little while and have discussions about the film afterwards.
Before Coldwater, you saw success with “Bellflower” – where to next? Are you staying in the world of independent film or do you have a desire to branch out?
I would be open to all different aspects of filmmaking. Bigger budget studio films if the script was good. Or continue to direct and produce films. As a producer I need to fall in love with the script and the director to work on it. I’m more of a director/editor than I am a writer/director. I have several things in the tank at the moment. Producing the next Coatwolf film, “CHUCK HANK AND THE SAN DIEGO TWINS” and acquired the rights to the next film I will be directing; an insane psychological horror film that I am very excited about. It has themes I haven’t seen explored in horror films in a very long time.
Vincent Grashaw and the entire cast of “Coldwater” are talents to watch in the world of filmmaking.
For more info on screenings and the film visit: www.coldwaterthemovie.com
By Pamela Price