SUNDANCE: Directors Tease 'The Square,' 'American Promise,' 'Pit Stop,' 'A River Changes Course,' 'This Is Martin Bonner,' 'Who Is Dayani Cristal'
This Is Martin Bonner by Director Chad Hartigan [NEXT Section]
Chad Hartigan’s moving second feature has an air of simplicity but proves a subtle meditation on friendship, faith, and human connection.
In his fifties, Martin Bonner leaves his old life behind and relocates to Reno, where he finds work for a church-based program that helps released prisoners transition to life on the outside. Divorced with two adult children, he tries speed dating and passes time as a soccer referee on weekends. Meanwhile Travis Holloway has just been released from a 12-year prison stint. His program mentor, Steve, is charitable and helps him adjust, but Travis finds Steve’s Christian devotion uncomfortable and reaches out to Martin instead. The two men form an unlikely friendship that offers them unspoken support and understanding.
In this quietly observational film, Hartigan affects naturalism but hints at unnerving disquietude as both Martin and Travis struggle in an unfamiliar place—looking for a second chance at life. The storytelling is intimate, witty, and personal, while Paul Eenhoorn (as Martin) and Richmond Arquette (as Travis) offer standout performances, approaching their characters with a low-key restraint that evokes the awkwardness of starting life afresh, well into middle age. [Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival]
This Is Martin Bonner quick pitch:
This Is Martin Bonner is the story of a man in his late 50s who has to relocate to Reno for a job and the difficulties one faces starting over at that age. He works with a prison rehabilitation program and eventually finds himself befriending a recently released prisoner who is in similar circumstances.
…and why it's worth checking out at Sundance and beyond:
The goal was to make a film about characters you don't often see in mainstream or independent cinema so hopefully that's what makes it unique and their story will resonate. Hopefully it also leaves viewers with a smile on their face.
Raising money and age disparity:
Raising money was, of course, a challenge. Every filmmaker in the festival would say the same. So outside of that, it was a challenge for me to try and tell the story of characters far beyond my own age and experiences in a truthful way. That was a constant battle in the writing. Casting was also difficult and if Paul Eenhoorn hadn't serendipitously read a casting notice online and flown himself from Seattle to LA to audition on a hunch, I probably wouldn't be on my way to Sundance.
More about the cast:
I wrote the part of Travis for Richmond Arquette, who I had met through a previous job. As I mentioned, Paul showed up at an open call in LA and gave a great audition but when I got in touch with him to schedule a callback, he admitted that he lived in Seattle and flown down just to read because he felt strangely compelled by the breakdown. Robert Longstreet and Demetrius Grosse were both 11th hour replacements for actors who had to drop out and I would now consider that to be both serendipitous and extremely fortunate for us as well.
A thought about the trailer:
It was a tough movie to encapsulate in a trailer but hopefully the clip gives you a sense of the relationship between the two characters and where they both are, emotionally, in their lives.