Preview: Locally made short film Harbinger at NCSU's Hunt Library Auditorium | Arts

Preview: Locally made short film Harbinger at NCSU's Hunt Library Auditorium



On Wednesday, Aug. 27 at 7 p.m., NCSU’s Hunt Library Auditorium hosts a free screening of Harbinger, a locally produced short film from Raleigh’s Drawbridge Media. The film’s co-directors, NCSU alumni Kieran Moreira and Andrew Martin, will be on hand for a brief post-screening discussion. The INDY caught an advance screening at Mission Valley Cinema on July 31.

Harbinger tells the story of the relationship between 10-year-old Harold Joyner (played by talented newcomer Cristian Dunston) and his adoptive mother, Avery Joyner (Dana Marks), who is pregnant with her first biological child. In the tradition of magical realist films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and Beasts of the Southern Wild, much of the dramatic force emerges from the tension between young Harold’s subjective sense of the world and what the audience knows to be reality. In Harold’s case, a cassette tape of “Mysteries of Outer Space” form the backdrop for his supernatural interpretation of his mother’s pregnancy.

Harbinger is the result of nearly three years of work and, Moreira says, “was not easy to make, and there was a lot of sacrifice involved.” Drawbridge’s first attempt to finance the film through IndieGoGo raised only a fraction of the studio’s desired budget, and subsequent attempts to secure funding likewise foundered. Faced with either abandoning the project or getting creative, Moreira and Martin engaged in “guerilla filmmaking.”

Working with a crew of mostly volunteers, the directors relied on the support of the Raleigh filmmaking community to cast characters, scout locations and design sets for the 21-day shoot, which took place late in 2013. At one point, the studio even partnered with the fire department of Mebane, which allowed them to film a training exercise conducted in a burning house, the footage of which forms Harbinger’s dramatic climax.

Watching the film, one suspects that what might have felt like concessions wound up as unexpected benefits. While the original budget might have allowed for elaborate special effects shots, director of photography Paul Frateschi trains his camera in extreme close-ups on drawings of space or wood shavings spread across the floor, elevating the mundane to the otherworldly. An artistic choice perhaps made by necessity ends up reinforcing one of the film’s central themes—that the sensitive viewer can find cosmic wonder in the most ordinary experiences.

When Harbinger screened at Mission Valley, it received a warm response from a crowd of more than 300. Running just under 30 minutes, the film is anchored by a talented, earnest cast, exceptional cinematography and an appropriately atmospheric soundtrack by local post-rock band Goodbye, Titan.

The film is not without its faults, however. Many of them emerge from the ambiguous politics implicit in the script. One prevailing metaphor relies on a highly problematic construction of gender, casting men as “metal” and women as more malleable “wood.” The apparent stereotype of women being “soft” was not alleviated in the Q&A. “Metal doesn’t lie,” the filmmakers said, at least inadvertently implying that women do.

Also in the Q&A, the filmmakers described the choice to cast an African-American child as Harold as a quick way to establish that he was not Avery's biological son. It was an odd explanation—why would we assume the child was adopted and not simply the product of a mixed-race union? Like the film’s take on gender roles, the idea seemed tone deaf—not entirely thought through. 

Still, Harbinger is shaping up as a successful debut for Drawbridge Studios. Moreira and Martin have submitted the film to a number of festivals, including Wilmington’s Cucalorus and Sundance, though the team has yet to hear if it has been accepted. Regardless of whether or not Harbinger tours the festival circuit, its creators say they will always look back fondly on the film. As Frateschi says, “If we get into festivals, if we win festivals, that’s great, but when it comes down to it, we want to make movies that people want to watch.”

Harbinger screens at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 27, in the auditorium of the James B. Hunt Jr. Library at NCSU. The event is free and open to the public.

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