Woods Hole Film Festival: “Girlfriend”

August 6, 2011

NOTE: I wrote this story for publication in yesterday’s Enterprise (Friday, August 5). The film screened last night at the Woods Hole Film Festival. It was outstanding. Five of the actors (including Evan Sneider and Nate Krawshuk) were present and answered questions after the screening. I will write about that event soon.

Imagine it is cold outside, a late October day, and you have been told that you have to lie motionless in the mud, the cold mud, for a seemingly interminable time, as the clouds move across the sun, changing the shadows falling across your face.

Imagine you are 5 years old. No, you are not being held captive by thugs. You are acting in a movie. And your motivation is the promise of a big toy when it is all over.

Nate Krawshuk managed to hang in there long enough for the crew of “Girlfriend” to shoot the scene, and was rewarded with a big Star Wars lightsaber.

Nate Krawshuk

Now 7, Nate is the son of Kim and Michael Krawshuk of Natick. He has a big sister, Ashley, 9. His grandmother, Elizabeth P. Heald, is a year-round resident of West Falmouth, and the Krawshuk family are fifth-generation summer residents of Old Dock Road in West Falmouth.

Nate and his family will be at the screening of the independent film at the Woods Hole Film Festival tonight at 9 o’clock at Redfield Auditorium, along with the star of the movie, Evan Sneider for a question and answer session with viewers.

This is the New England premiere of the film, and Nate said he “can’t wait to see the whole movie.” He has only seen clips so far, his mother said, and she plans to cover his eyes during some scenes in the R-rated film tonight.

Nate plays the son of a single mother with financial problems and a volatile ex-boyfriend. She is being courted by a man who has loved her from afar, and who has suddenly come into a lot of money. The problem for her is that he has Down syndrome.

“Girlfriend” is said to be the first North American feature film starring an actor with Down syndrome. Writer/director Justin Lerner grew up in Wayland and went to high school with Mr. Sneider, who plays the role of Evan Gray in the film. Mr. Lerner wrote the movie for Mr. Sneider, seeking to portray Mr. Sneider as “a compassionate, empathetic young man with Down syndrome, possessing a surprising charm and disarming sense of humor,” living in a harsher world.

Evan Sneider and Jackson Rathbone

Mr. Lerner said that he knew “which kind of story would resonate the most—a story about something missing in Evan’s life that he profoundly desires—a real, loving relationship.”

Mr. Sneider, who has been acting all his life, has received rave reviews for his performance. He has been talking about his experiences at film festivals around the world and on television programs, praising his fellow actors.

The film has a few name actors as well. Amanda Plummer plays Evan Gray’s mother; Shannon Woodward (Sabrina on “Raising Hope” and Di Di Malloy on “The Riches”)  plays Candy, Evan’s love interest, and Jackson Rathbone (best known for his portrayal of vampire Jasper Hale in “The Twilight Saga”) is Candy’s abusive boyfriend, as well as one of the producers of the movie

Mr. Rathbone’s funk rock band, 100 Monkeys, provides the soundtrack for “Girlfriend.”

“Girlfriend” was shot in the fall of 2009 in Wayland, just one town over from Natick. Ms. Krawshuk learned about the auditions from a friend who knew that Nate, only 5 at the time, enjoyed acting in preschool.

Nate spent five weeks on the set, from mid-September until late October. Scenes were shot out of order, so neither he nor his mother had a sense of continuity about the storyline.

He has speaking parts in 23 or 24 scenes throughout the film, said his mother, mostly small exchanges, or a few lines, leading up to the dramatic scenes near the end, in the mud.

Ms. Krawshuk, who has seen the film, said that it was “surreal” for her to see her son in the film. He was “very believable,” she said, “with a somewhat sad expression throughout the movie,” a child of poverty and a dysfunctional family.

Seeing Nate in a situation so different from his “somewhat privileged life with a happy family” made her realize that if he could do that, he could be very successful as an actor.

“He took direction very well,” she said. “The crew was surprised at how well he did.”

Being in “Girlfriend” has been a “great experience” for Nate. He has gone on to do commercials and other acting roles, including a part in “Limbus,” a film by a graduate student at the Boston University film school, which was shot around Boston.

He plays a boy with a heart problem in “Trouble,” a film set to preview at the end of the summer about a dog named Trouble who helps children who are struggling with something in their lives.

He has a manager, Bethany Constance, who has provided coaching on auditions, and has worked with Tim Ayers at Model Club Inc., both of whom have been very helpful.

Asked how he liked working on the film, he replied, “It was awesome! I liked working with famous movie stars. Justin was really nice, and Evan was really, really nice, too. The producers got me a present at the end of filming!”

Nate loves to act: “I like getting hired for jobs because it’s fun being on set. I don’t mind missing school but I hate to miss gym class…that’s my favorite.”

He wants to continue to act when he grows up: “Yes…I want to be a movie star…but I also want to be a hockey player.”

For now, Ms. Krawshuk said they will continue, as long as he continues to enjoy acting, and see where it leads.

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