Oscar nominee Sally Kirkland always has been attracted to offbeat roles, so it wasn’t too difficult to persuade her to to play a grandmother in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease in the 22-minute short film “Posey.”
“I love doing characters that have some suffering in them,” said the 71-year-old actress, who earned her Academy Award nomination as best actress for playing an out-of-work Czech actress in the 1987 movie “Anna.” “It gives you a place to have emotional range.”
Kirkland, who also has had small roles in the 1970s films “The Sting,” “The Way We Were,” “A Star is Born” and “Private Benjamin,” and the writer-director Billy DaMota will screen the movie at Film Fest Twain Harte, which runs Aug. 30-Sept. 2 in different venues in Twain Harte.
The film is one of 55 movies selected from more than 400 submissions that will be shown at the festival. Kirkland is not the only celebrity planning to attend. Corbin Bernsen (known for his roles in TV’s “LA Law” and “Psych”) and Stuart Whitman (who starred opposite John Wayne in the 1961 movie “The Comancheros”) are also scheduled to appear at the festival. Some proceeds from the festival will go to scholarships for visual arts students from Tuolumne County.
This year, western and family-friendly entries will be highlighted.
“What defines Twain Harte and Tuolumne County historically is western culture,” said Zack Gold, the film festival’s president. “There used to be a lot of films shot in Tuolumne County. By highlighting western films, we’re paying homage to what’s been done in our county.”
He added that the festival is showcasing family-friendly entries because Twain Harte is a vacation destination for families from other parts of California. “We wanted to provide options that appeal to a family-friendly audience.”
While “Posey” isn’t intended for children, it has a hopeful note. “It’s basically about a family coming together,” Gold said. “It’s sad and uplifting at the same time. It’s a family-centric kind of film.”
In the movie, Kirkland’s character Posey is placed in an assisted-care facility reluctantly by her granddaughter. As her disease becomes more severe, Posey spends more time in a fantasy world, illustrated in one sequence with a Bollywood-style dance scene.
“I had never done anything like that,” Kirkland said. “It was sort of like being in a Bollywood film. It was an amazing experience. (DaMota) let us do it again and again and again until the actors felt it was right, which was nice. He’s a wonderful director.”
The idea for the film came from Kirkland’s acting student Erica Rhodes, who had experienced watching her own grandmother degenerate. She asked DaMota to write the script and plays Kirkland’s granddaughter in the film. The movie was funded with $7,500 raised from donations on Kickstarter.com and an additional $7,500 contributed by DaMota, who mainly works as a casting director.
DaMota said that once he started talking about the project on Kickstarter, he received hundreds of emails from people wanting to share their own stories about relatives with Alzheimer’s. “It was a movie I really did have to make,” he said. Kirkland said hearing people’s personal stories made working on the film a fulfilling spiritual experience.
As a special bonus to the festival, Kirkland will give an acting workshop for 16 young students from Tuolumne County, and DaMota will lead a Q&A with the kids and their families about how to break into the acting business. The public is welcome to attend the Q&A, which will be held from noon to 1 p.m. Sept. 1 at Twain Harte Elementary School.
Gold said the film festival should offer enough choices to satisfy almost anyone. “It’s an opportunity to view films you’d otherwise not be able to see. (People who attend) will be in the middle of God’s country surrounded by mountains and lakes, a short drive from Yosemite.”