Against All Odds, Kentucky Filmmaker Creates Lyrical Short Film
by Kirven Blount
A Contributing Reviewer for Entertainment Weekly

Between Baronovskys is a lyrical, thoughtful film about emotional ties that, though easily taken for granted, prop us up when other supports fall away. The characters in the film, most of them well into their respective twilights, have settled into a routine of few surprises and even fewer reasons to exult. Emotions that have been suppressed - even seemingly discarded - simmer close to the surface, awaiting an opening. Untamed Helen and her hectoring sister Dot have spent a lot of time depending on one another, letting one another down, and getting on one another’s last nerve. Helen, whose husband has passed away, maintains a youthful radiance that long ago gave up the ghost where Dot is concerned. Helen’s easy bond with Morris, Dot’s husband, doesn’t do much to alleviate the tension, but she’s beyond caring - when Helen’s husband died, her concern for propriety slipped away as well.

Writer, Director, Kimberly Levin says her film, and specifically Helen’s plight, is about “how difficult it can be to ask for help.” It’s a concept she understands all too well, after a harrowing bout with illness. In 1999 she was lighting up the sky, living in Manhattan and trying to juggle the demands of NYU film school and an all-consuming job as Associate Director on Closer, the Tony-nominated Broadway play (since adapted for the screen). Normally blessed with bottomless energy levels, Levin was shocked to find herself losing steam, battling fatigue and unfamiliar pain. Never one to accept defeat, she pushed herself harder and harder, until her incapacitation was too much to ignore. She was forced to drop everything and return home to Louisville, KY, and her supportive family.

She now knows that she was blind-sided by Lyme disease, probably acquired from a tick encountered in the Hamptons, but the search for that diagnosis was long and maddening, and finding that answer was far from the end of the story: she’ll be managing the illness for the rest of her life. In the midst of this trial came the idea of a film about being laid low by life and all the possible responses. “I was used to living life on my own terms, and suddenly the rug was pulled out from under me,” Levin says. “I was very interested in what it means to be vulnerable.”

“In a youth obsessed culture, the stories of older people and the nuances of aging don't get a lot of screen time.”

Desperate for an escape from her bed-ridden existence, she began writing Baronovskys. “I didn’t want to let my life be defined by illness,” says Levin. “I noticed that being creative infused me with spirit; it made me feel healthy.” But she didn’t feel the need to process her own reality - she had done enough thinking about that: “I wanted to connect with an experience I hadn’t been through.” This combined with her sense that “in a youth obsessed culture, the stories of older people and the nuances of aging don't get a lot of screen time” led her to began musing about Dot and Helen.

In between physical therapy and myriad examinations, she managed to write a screenplay. She put together cast, crew and financing, and then had to ask herself if she was ready for the rigors of production. She decided she would will her way through it, because the alternative would just be too deflating.

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Having cut her teeth at the prestigious Actor’s Theater of Louisville (not to mention working with bold-faced actors on Broadway), Levin was a firm believer in careful rehearsal. She got the actors around a table and gave them time and leeway to give their characters life. She was struck by the emotion that was unearthed, especially among the older actors. Peggy Cowles, Adale O'Brien and Bob Burrus, who play Helen, Dot and Morris, respectively, connected to the material instantly, swapping stories and dissolving in cathartic tears. Cowles said the rehearsal process allowed the actors to “establish the family that we are in the movie – to allow those feelings to come forward,” which then fed the sense of cohesion that the film conveys so well. Cowles was energized by the fact that “the script was so well-written; it made so much sense to me.” Add to that the fact that the three actors had worked together and were already close friends, and Levin knew she had a resonant emotional base from which to work.

During shooting, Levin began to wonder if she had taken on too much. She was in constant pain and the stress and lack of sleep were taking a toll. She pressed on, hiding her struggle from a cast and crew that she knew were following her lead. At one point, while doing take after take of what turned out to be an overwhelmingly beautiful shot of the sun and moon balanced across the sky, Levin found herself losing consciousness while holding a boom. She shook herself and gritted her teeth, but couldn’t shake the sense that trouble may be ahead. When Director of Photography Rory Hanrahan confided that he, too, was depleted enough that he wondered if he would make it, Levin knew she’d be OK. The sense of family had grown to include all involved in the production, and the community energy was more than enough to carry everyone through.

With the worst of her illness behind her and Baronovskys in the can, Levin is plotting her next steps. Drawing on her pre-filmmaking life as a Environmental Biochemist, as well as what she’s learned from her illness about biological hazards and how they affect our health, she is writing Cantuckee, a screenplay which challenges the audience to a dialogue about the way we are poisoning ourselves, each other and the world. True to form, she refuses to gripe or regret, knowing that she’s learned from her experience and that out of it has come a great piece of filmmaking.