With its gated hedgerow and neat little garden nooks, Cornelia Duryée’s house feels like a fairy kingdom. Duryée, co-founder of Seattle Shakespeare Company and staple in the Seattle filmmaker scene, exuded joy when I met with her this weekend—a cheeriness at odds with her latest film, her third to premiere at SIFF, and the first she didn’t pen. West of Redemption, which stars Billy Zane, centers around the imprisonment and beating of a man who happens to knock on the wrong farmhouse door. Produced by Duryée’s Kairos Production company, West of Redemption ends tomorrow night at SIFF.
What prompted the shift into less family-fare material?
I had a couple scripts that were in the back burner and Kairos was working with those and looking for other things. Tony Becerra, our first assistant director on movies, knew we were looking and he found the script for us. He said, “You’re going to love this one.” And I read it and I was blown away. I showed it to my husband and he said, “This doesn’t seem like you. You want to direct this?" And I’m like, well, read it again. It’s a redemptive story. Hence the title.
Movies that come out of Kairos Productions need to be redemptive, they need to have hope. I can’t make a movie in a world with no hope. And thank God [company partner] Larry Estes feels the same and the movies that he’s drawn to are movies that are transformative and uplifting and helpful, no matter the situation the people have to fight through.
How could this be redemptive? It seems so bleak.
Exactly! That’s what you’re supposed to think when you see the trailer. Because there are so many stories that are worth telling that are about people going through rough things. Life is like that. But the total cliche—because it’s true—if you figure out how to make lemonade out of lemons then you can figure out your life. And getting to a certain age in life, you make an awful lot of lemonade and you have to get more and more creative with that as you age. And I like to tell that kind of story.
How did Kairos Productions get started?
Kairos has been around in various forms about 15 years. It began because my godmother said I had to do it. She pretty much tapped me to do it. So I did. My godmother is Madeleine L’Engle and when she says you got to do something, you go, OK. I will do that thing. And I dropped out of seminary and went to film school and Kairos was born right then.
Kairos is a word that in Greek means time out of time, or God’s time, or prayer, or flow, or non-chronological time. Time outside of linear time. When you’re in a movie, you’re in kairos. If the movie’s any good and you’re sucked into it you lose track of chronology. In any good art or any flow, something where you’re not thinking any more, you’re just in it. You’re flowing. That’s kairos.
With West of Redemption, you mentioned a focus on hope. Are there any other themes you want to come out in the film?
There’s so much in this incredibly packed story. One of the things I love is that struggle is not for nothing. You can win your battle. The movie is dedicated in the credits. It says “For the Warriors” and then right after that it says “We are all Warriors.” Because I think everybody has to struggle in their life. There is no good story without conflict. There’s no good life without conflict; you have to have rotten things happen to you and learn to solve your way through it in a creative way to even be alive. And so I like the fact that in this story, the struggle that the people have bears much fruit and is redemptive. And the pain is not lost.
Your previous films have a faith-centered undercurrent. Does this film fit into that?
Many faith-based writers and filmmakers make pablums. They’re not very good, they make propaganda. That’s not what we’re about. We’re about telling amazing stories, as Madeline was. There’s no Jesus-loves-me-this-I-know in our movies. No.
It’s who we are as filmmakers that we trust will carry through the story, and this movie—it’s rated R. Well, it’s not rated, but if it were there’s an awful lot of F-bombs, there’s an awful lot of stuff happening. The story’s rough. But it’s so luminous with the beauty of struggle and the beauty of pushing through and leaning in and getting through it no matter how you have to, to get through to the win. The characters go through hell and they keep going, they don’t give up, and that’s so essential to what makes a human a human. And I want to tell more stories like that. It can’t always be pretty. Actually, it never can be.
West of Redemption screens May 27 as part of the Seattle International Film Festival. Tickets and information can be found here.