Britta Sjogren works on location filming 'Beyond Redemption.'

Sjogren Finds ‘Redemption’ in Petaluma

Michael Fox August 31, 2011

Sjogren gets a second chance to make a film about how people rebound from trauma.

No one will ever confuse the windswept hills of Petaluma for Monument Valley. But there’s a hint of the Old West in the way a fresh-faced, white-hatted Lily Rabe squints into the sun as she plays a garden scene.

The location is the organic, off-the-grid Stubbs Vineyard, where Oakland writer-director (and San Francisco State cinema professor) Britta Sjogren is shooting Beyond Redemption with a cast that includes Lisa Gay Hamilton, Jake Weber and Hamish Linklater.

“The story’s been around for a while and was originally set in Los Angeles, in the desert, in Joshua Tree,” Sjogren said, a few minutes before she headed over to the garden set. Isabelle Huppert and Maximilian Schell were attached to that earlier version, but it fell apart when the money couldn't be raised.

After several revisions across many years, Beyond Redemption now centers on two women: Anna (Rabe), an East Bay wife who abandons everything after her daughter dies in a horse-riding accident, and Tess (Hamilton), another Oakland émigré who ended up years earlier in Sonoma County.

“Once we decided it was going to be a contemporary Western,” Sjogren said, “I was immediately thinking about John Ford and the kinds of classic iconography and use of color that people like Ford in particular used. Blues and browns and yellows and oranges.”

Echoes of the central theme of Beyond Redemption can also be detected in Ford’s work, notably The Searchers,

“A lot of it is about how people rebound from trauma in their life and how they get a second chance,” Sjogren explained. “All of the four central characters have something that they’ve had to rebound from, and some of them have not succeeded. It’s kind of a saga of how the forces for a new path in life are unknown to us. It can be unexpected, and it can be found through certain kinds of empathetic connections with people we would never have had the foresight to imagine would influence us in a positive direction.”

Sjogren describes Tess, whose Black Panther father was murdered when she was a small child, as an “African American John Wayne character.” Hamilton was so jazzed about the role that she called the director after she was offered the part.

“I didn’t answer the phone because I never answer the phone,” Sjogren recalled with a wry laugh. “Later I listened to the message. ‘Oh my God, Lisa Gay Hamilton just called me. I guess I better call her back.’ She said it was the kind of part she’d been wanting to play.”

Sjogren adds, “It was a big day for us. And she’s [made] an amazing contribution. She’s taken this part and run with it in ways I dared not dream of.”

Bradley Sellers, who shot Sjogren’s 2005 feature, In This Short Life , is the cinematographer while Soumyaa Kapil Behrens, a former student of Sjogren’s with her own documentary deep into production, makes her feature debut as a producer. (Soumyaa is the wife of SFFS Filmmaker Education Manager Michael Behrens.) Scott Verges, Sjogren’s partner, is the executive producer, and his friendship with Tom Stubbs led to the production’s use of the family home and grounds.

Beyond Redemption wraps production in Petaluma any day, with the company moving to Oakland for a fifth and final week of shooting.

Notes from the Underground
Doc makers Carrie Lozano and Charlotte Lagarde screen and discuss segments of Filming Performance, their work in progress about the jazz composer and pianist Fred Hersch, Wed, Sept. 8 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The event is free. … Pixar’s next short, Toy Story Toon: Small Fry, opens November 23 with Disney’s The Muppets. The company announced that Pete Docter is directing a movie for the 2013 holiday season set inside the human mind, while Bob Peterson is helming a feature for summer 2014 imagining if the dinosaurs had survived and evolved. Pixar’s next movie is Brave, slated to open June 2012.

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