“Northern Shade,” a combat-vet movie shot in the New Haven area by Branford filmmaker Christopher Rucinski, will open in the Elm City Thursday.
The movie is about Justin, a former soldier who served in Afghanistan and now lives aimlessly on a boat on the Quinnipiac River. Justin discovers his brother Charlie has been recruited by an extremist militia in the Quiet Corner and attempts to lure him away.
The movie was written, produced, directed and edited by Rucinski. The cinematographer is Grzegorz Gill. The military adviser is Kyle A. Berg, a combat vet who served three years in Afghanistan. The three men were classmates at Branford High School.
“Northern Shade” is Rucinski’s feature directorial debut. He wrote a script about combat vets, then asked Berg to read it. With Berg’s experience and input, Rucinski revised the script.
“The main story is how vets get solicited for militias all the time because of their military training. That’s an interesting thing that is still happening now. No matter how extreme the militia is, they want people with military training. Vets are always propositioned online on Facebook and other social media to join militias,” he said.
The Connecticut premiere is at Bow Tie Criterion Cinemas, 86 Temple St. It will be shown again July 14 and 21. All screenings are at 8 p.m. Rucinski will do a Q&A at all three screenings. Gill will join him at Thursday’s screening and Berg will be at the July 14 and 21 screenings. Admission is $10.
“Northern Shade” was filmed in Branford locations including Stony Creek Quarry, Shoreline Trolley Museum, ZuWalick Sawmill and Trinity Church, as well as Quinnipiac River Marina in New Haven, Beach Pond in Voluntown, a Guilford gas station and several private homes. The combat flashback scenes were shot in Sylmar, California.
After New Haven, Rucinski will screen the film at the Woods Hole Film Festival on Cape Cod on Aug. 4 at 7:45 p.m. Then he will head home to Los Angeles and rejoin his job in the editorial department of “Indiana Jones 5.”
A love for the movies
Rucinski, 36, has loved movies all his life. “In high school I worked two jobs, both film related. I worked at Hoyt’s Cinema in Branford ... and at Tommy K’s video store,” he said.
A class in high school gave him a more in-depth appreciation for cinema.
“Chuck Reale taught film studies at Branford High. I loved that class. It was the first time I looked at film from a more academic viewpoint,” he said. “My jobs were good because I had access to a lot of movies. I was able to rent any movie we were talking about.”
He also played the bass and went to Emerson College in Boston to study music production and visual and media art. Film won out, and Rucinski fell in love with picture editing.
“I did a semester in L.A. to create a network out there,” he said.
After graduating, he worked for the New England Patriots as a video editor. Then, during a company-wide layoff following the 2008 economic downturn, he was docked down to two days a week. “There was no worse or better time to go to L.A.,” he said.
At first in L.A., Rucinski had landscaping jobs, including some work at celebrity homes.
“I learned how to plant tomatoes in Pink’s garden. I helped install a drainage system for Ed Begley Jr.,” he said.
After a few months, an older Emerson grad, Michael McCusker, came back from a location shoot, answered Rucinski’s message and helped him get work in films.
Since then, Rucinski has worked in the editorial department for several films, including “Bad Boys for Life,” “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” “Get On Up,” “The Wolverine,” “Captain America: The First Avenger,” “Knight and Day,” “War for the Planet of the Apes” and “Ford v Ferrari.” The latter film won McCusker an Oscar for film editing.
During his “Northern Shade” rewrites, COVID hit. As per the film industry’s COVID protocols, Rucinski had to remove almost every scene that required extras.
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“We had bar scenes and restaurant scenes. We took them out. Only one scene in the movie has extras, filmed at Trinity Church,” he said.
His bosses at “Indiana Jones 5″ let Rucinski take a break from his job to show his movie at film festivals. At the Phoenix Film Festival, it won best screenplay. At the Poppy Jasper Film Festival in Gilroy, California, it won best feature.
Rucinski wouldn’t say what the total budget was, but said it was a “micro-budget, which usually implies under $200,000.” About $20,000 of that was crowd-funded.
Rucinski hopes to get the film into other festivals and land a distribution deal that includes a limited theatrical run, showing in theaters in New York and L.A.
He arranged the New Haven screenings because “it’s important to me that Connecticut people are able to see it on the big screen.
“Anyone who knows geography of New Haven will recognize most of the movie,” he said.
Susan Dunne can be reached at email@example.com.