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Berkshire-based writer’s script to come to BIFF this week

Both screenwriter Maria Nation and BIFF executive director Kelley Vickery saw the timeliness and relevance of the film here in the Berkshires, where opioid addiction rates are skyrocketing.

Ashley Falls — While most screenwriters are stuck in traffic on the 405 in L.A. on the way to a pitch meeting, Maria Nation is on her farm feeding her donkeys, horses, dogs and feral cats before she sits down with a screenplay.

“It’s kind of a petting zoo around here,” she told me over the phone.

One of Nation’s screenplays is a now a film called “A Street Cat Named Bob,” and it hits the Berkshire International Film Festival (BIFF) Reel Friends Society this week: Wednesday at the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield, and Thursday, February 16 at the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington.

It’s the story of a healing that begins when a stray cat enters the gnarly life of a recovering British heroin addict. The book was an international bestseller before British screenwriter Tim John wrote the original script and Nation was brought in later by the director to rewrite it. While she writes most of her own scripts, she also does “script doctoring,” something very common in the business and for which there are “bloody battles” for credit.

Ah, the movie biz.

She says it’s exciting work but “pretty hairy” at times, with “wild, adrenaline-rushing situations,” like when she worked on pages for “Street Cat,” and director Roger Spottiswoode was in the Arctic with no cell reception and had to have the pages jet skied to the location. Spottiswoode, who made films including “And the Band Played On,” “Turner & Hooch,” and “Tomorrow Never Dies,” has worked with Nation for a decade.

Both Nation and Spottiswoode will be at both screenings and will stick around after for an agenda-less discussion along with a Jessica Dunn from Mountainside Treatment Center in Canaan, Connecticut. Along with BIFF, Mountainside and Berkshire Humane Society’s Purradise are sponsoring the screenings.

Ashley Falls-based screenwriter Maria Nation worked on 'A Street Cat Named Bob,' coming to BIFF this week. Photo courtesy Maria Nation
Ashley Falls-based screenwriter Maria Nation worked on ‘A Street Cat Named Bob,’ coming to BIFF this week. Photo courtesy Maria Nation

Both Nation and BIFF’s executive director, Kelley Vickery, saw the timeliness and relevance of the film here in the Berkshires, where opioid addiction rates are skyrocketing. Nation said Vickery’s “community positive” approach to curating films over the past 12 years is a real asset to the area.

“Kelley has a strong compass for social relevance,” Nation said.

“Street Cat” has been praised for finding some light in a dark subject. Nation said this was the challenge in some of the writing, to make it “not so dark and not so cat-lady cute.”

She said she did some research and found a TED talk by Johann Hari that moved her. She said Hari’s “Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong” explained that “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection,” she said. “Heroin addicts are often ostracized…and being all alone is not the way to solve addiction.”

And Mountainside issued a statement about the film, saying it “helps to humanize and de-stigmatize addiction. Addiction does not have to limit a person’s life or their potential, once they’ve taken steps to enter recovery. We encourage those in recovery to not be afraid to share their stories – to demonstrate to people with an active addiction that recovery is indeed possible.”

But back to Nation and how it is she has had a successful 25-year screenwriting career while living on “8 acres of paradise” in the rural Berkshires with her partner, Roberto Flores.

“I was a Malibu girl,” she said, before she moved to New York City and eventually bought her Sheffield home for weekends. At that time she was working as a story analyst.

She explained that movie studios get “hundreds of stacks” of screenplays and it was her job to read them and summarize and critique them. This is what taught her, she said, what writing works and what doesn’t.

Nation named one of her rescued donkeys Grace Kelly after finishing work on the Grace Kelly miniseries.
Nation named one of her horses Grace Kelly after finishing work on a miniseries about the famous actress.

“That was my film school,” she said, noting that she made “50 bucks a script,” and that’s how she made her living.

She says she rarely pitches her own ideas, though she’s tried and only a few have been bought and commissioned. “It’s more productive for me to get a call for a proposal.”

“I’m easy,” she said, with a chuckle. “They don’t have to bother taking me to lunch. I’m thousand of miles away. I don’t know why it works.”

Why even ask why—she said she is “lucky and grateful” for this life with feet on good earth rather than pumping the brakes on that L.A. freeway.

She does sometimes travel when European producers fly her over for meetings. For a miniseries about Grace Kelly, she went to Rome three times. She also wrote a film for the German network RTL based on the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster. And she is now in talks with German producers on another project for winter 2018.

I ask her how and when the plot ideas pop in and, like most writers, she is awestruck by this process.

“These characters start talking to you,” she said. “You listen and go with it. They are agents for plot movement so you have to craft a character that will help tell the story.

“Something takes over—it’s mysterious, things come and I don’t know where they come from; I have no idea how it works and I’ve been doing it for 25 years.”

—————–

“A Street Cat Named Bob” will be shown at the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield on Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m. and on Thursday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. at the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington. Tickets are available from the respective theaters. Also on Thursday, Feb. 9, at pre-screening reception with the filmmakers will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Rubiner’s in Great Barrington. Tickets for the reception are $20 and available via the Triplex Cinema.

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