Kat Candler stares at the Dunkin' Donuts in LaGuardia Airport and waits for her plane. She's dressed in Dr. Martens and a Werner Herzog T-shirt that reads "adventure beckons." She wore the lucky shirt the first day filming Hellion in East Texas with a cast that includes Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis.
That was back before. Before brushing the "what ifs" aside and completing a poetic, dreamy, sometimes harsh, often sweet look at adolescence. Before the film's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and subsequent South by Southwest screenings. Before Sundance Selects picked up Hellion for theatrical and video-on-demand release. This day she has just completed the New York leg of that adventure with Los Angeles and Austin screenings lurking.
She stayed in New York City with a childhood pal who lives just blocks from the IFC Center. She admits getting teary during the brief walk to the premiere. Afterward, a half-dozen high-school friends from Jacksonville, Fla., convened to celebrate.
"Every night I go to bed and lay there with a tornado of thoughts – mostly good thoughts," says Candler. "Then I have to remind myself I'm making movies, and my movie premiered in New York and is playing all summer long. It's pretty freaking cool."
It's the third feature film written and directed by Candler, who has specialized in tales of adolescence and whose No. 1 on-set rule is "be nice." But Hellion marks a major breakthrough to a larger audience. Count her a solid convert to VOD, which has allowed Hellion to reach the heartland where it's set. The feature is an outgrowth of Candler's short of the same name that screened at Sundance in 2012 and which was inspired by stories told by her grandfather.
Hellion is about 13-year-old Jacob (played by Josh Wiggins), who is into heavy metal and motocross, but reeling from his mother's death and acting out in increasingly dangerous ways as his father (Paul) tries to connect with him. Candler shot for 26 days in the Port Arthur region, which included producing partner Kelly Williams' hometown of Port Neches. The area embraced the film, and more than 100 local kids auditioned for roles. Many shared heartbreaking stories from their own lives.
"They were just kids going through stuff well beyond their years," Candler says. "There are so many things adults don't ask them. They had plenty of things they needed to get off their chests without doing it in destructive ways."
The film, shot in a dreamy Seventies-esque color palette, aims to scratch at the scabs covering the pain. "I'm full of hope," Candler says, "but I think the mistakes we make as human beings are way more interesting than the good choices we make."
Back in the airport, Candler ponders what her younger self would think of her adult self. "If I were 12 and knew what I'd accomplished in my life, I'd be pretty proud of myself. My adult self is proud of me, too. It's been a roller-coaster ride, and I'm just trying to hang on and enjoy every second of it."
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