Starring the Granite State

Here’s a chance to see what a local Oscar winner has been up to

Ernest Thompson directs a film within a film in “Heavenly Angle.”

Courtesy photo

While the Granite State can claim a number of Academy Award-winners as its own, there’s only one responsible for rebranding an entire local body of water. He also created a mystique which, for more than 35 years, has lured tourists and romantics to our shores to hear the cry of the loons.  

“On Golden Pond,” the beloved 1981 film that managed to squeeze three film titans into a small Squam Lake house, is a cinematic archetype of dysfunctional family love. Ernest Thompson of Meredith is the writer who brought Ethel, Norman and Chelsea to life — and he has the golden statue to prove it. Now, even with serious talk of a “Golden Pond” sequel in the works, Thompson seems just as excited to talk about his two latest movies, “Time and Charges” (2013) and “Heavenly Angle” (2014). Neither is likely to appear at Cannes or near a Hollywood red carpet, but both are filled with locations, tropes and characters that might seem very familiar. In fact, there’s a decent chance you know one or more of the stars.

Neither film was made with anything resembling a Hollywood budget. In fact, they were made on the equivalent of a Yankee shoestring, the kind held together by knots. Both are examples of what Thompson calls community-based filmmaking, where actors and many of the technical roles are filled with volunteers doing it to learn the craft, for love of film or simply for the fun of it. Naturally, this impacts the quality of the movies in real and perceptible ways. Acting is uneven (or amateurish in spots), and props and sets and editing sometimes seem a little cobbled together. That’s no reason not to experience these works, though, if only to try to imagine how a cinematic veteran like Thompson negotiated the pitfalls and managed to still make you laugh, cry and yearn along with the characters.

Appropriately, one of the most endearing figures in both films is played by Thompson himself, who takes the leading role in each. His power-broker persona and rugged good looks are put to good use as he portrays two successful men whose best days seem to be behind them, but who still have one more glory ride to take, either into the future (“Heavenly Angle”) or into the past (“Time and Charges”). 

Which is not to imply that Thompson hasn’t remained vital and full of surprises since his early success as a writer. He has written for, directed and acted with a dozen Academy Award-winners or nominees, from Robert Downey Jr. to Shirley MacLaine, and made a passel of noteworthy films. His plays have appeared on Broadway and in theaters around the world. He’s written more than 100 songs and worked with composers including the legendary Carly Simon, multi-Grammy-nominee Joan Osborne, world-renowned Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster and New Hampshire’s own late, great Mighty Sam McClain.

“Time and Charges” is the more serious effort of Thompson’s community filmmaking oeuvre. In it, a hot-shot New York money manager follows a handmade exit sign off a rural New Hampshire highway and enters the Granite Twilight Zone. There (here?) he finds a daughter he never knew and rediscovers the man he once was. “Heavenly Angle” digs for comedy and finds it in a cast of small-town characters who seem ripe for the picking by a down-on-his-luck movie maker out to bilk the town with some Hollywood razzle-dazzle.

Both films have had success on the festival circuit. They will be shown as a double feature at Concord’s Red River Theatres on Saturday, September 9, with Thompson on hand to answer questions. Who knows? Perhaps he’ll be casting for his next community-based film.

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