When an lndiana-born filmmaker decided to take on the challenge of writing a movie based in western Pennsylvania, she knew it needed to be shot here to capture the full effect.
Natalia Kaniasty, a 2003 graduate of Indiana Area High School and a 2008 graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, will be in the area this week filming.
The work will serve as her pre-thesis film — a project she’s required to do as a film master’s student at New York University, a program that’s considered to be very competitive.
“I’ve always been interested in film,” Kaniasty said, “but my background comes from theater. From actually my childhood days I was doing theater at the community theater here in town, Indiana Players, and then through junior and (senior) high school I was one of the drama students.”
She graduated from IUP with a dual degree in psychology and theater. Living in Pittsburgh, she decided to take a film class. In the class, through Pittsburgh Filmmakers, she fell in love with film, working with actors and visual storytelling.
“I took kind of a roundabout journey,” she said, “but after starting there I really fell in love with it. I worked for a little while and applied to NYU because it felt like that was supposed to come next.”
Kaniasty calls life in New York City “hectic” but also “wonderful” and “incredible.”
“I love it. I tell people that there are periods where we’re shooting movies or editing films, we’re not sleeping for two days straight, but somehow that adrenaline keeps you going because you’re fulfilling your passions.”
The film, which is required to run 10 to 15 minutes, has been something Kaniasty has been working on for a while. Work started with the brainstorming of ideas with professors in the spring, and then the film students were required to write through the summer break.
When it’s finished, she has big plans for the film — including sharing it in New York and worldwide. She’d like for it to be submitted to something as large as the Sundance Film Festival, a showcase for independent film held every year in Utah.
“The seedling,” she said, “was planted for the film last January when I came home for a few days over winter break to visit my family … I was already thinking about my second year project. I really knew that I wanted to film back home.”
It was important for her to film locally, she said, because she “wanted to show the world what she knows,” which is western Pennsylvania.
The film tells the story of fictional Bobby Novak, whose character is played by a 2001 IHS graduate, Brett Mack. Novak, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, returns home after losing his best friend in action.
“He’s really just struggling to reassimilate into his community. It’s not that he doesn’t want to, he’s not isolating himself, he’s just having trouble coping.”
The character, she said, was written specifically for Mack to play it. In fact, she started writing before Mack even came on board.
“He’s an incredible actor and it was important to use local voices,” Kaniasty said.
All of the other characters in the film are people she knows locally.
“I have a very strong interest in veterans’ issues … soldiers returning home from deployment whether they saw combat or not,” she said.
“It’s our responsibility to let our men and women who served know that we’re here for them and also let them find their own way.”
Though Kaniasty arrived home two weeks ago to begin pre-production work, her crew, fellow classmates, arrived in Indiana on Monday. Filming began Tuesday and will continue in spots around the county through Tuesday of next week. Kaniasty is filming in locations such as the Rose Inn, Benamati’s in Creekside, a forest in Blairsville and others.
The crew, all coming from New York, is excited to see what it’s like here, she said. Many of the crew members are international students that will be experiencing their first American Thanksgiving at Kaniasty’s mother, Ola’s, house.
The film is being financed through crowdfunding and Indiegogo, an international crowdfunding site. Donations are being accepted at www.indiegogo.com/projects/home-range/.