Today my history professor, a rumpled, pot-bellied guy in his mid thirties, walked into class looking all excited, which...
Last night I was fortunate enough to make it to the premiere of a short film which I have been following the production of since fall of 2011. When I stumbled across their production blog and seeing what all they were trying to accomplish and put into their film, things I absolutely love, I remember saying I wanted to see them achieve their vision and be a success. So there was no way I wasn’t going to be there when they finally reached that goal. Now, after knowing all the elements that were going into the film, all the efforts and choices and concepts they made in order to bring their film into fruition, I still was not prepared for the magnificence of East of Kensington.
The film begins with the final events of J.M. Barrie’s famous story of the boy who could fly bringing the Darling children back home to their mother. And even in those initial moments, their was an earnest sense of Barrie’s work come to life. The silhouette of Wendy’s hair, John’s tophat, and Michael’s Indian brave headdress surrounding their sleeping mother framed beautifully in the iconic nursery room window immediately recalled the wonder and joy is Peter Pan. This all made more impressive by the absolutely flawless cinematography and coloring painting this picture.
It continues shortly after with a sweeping shot back into the night sky that made my jaw drop, and Peter returning to his lost boys in Neverland. This is where I’ll stop telling how it goes because I hate to spoil any moment for anyone. And this film is full of moments that are worth having the full experience. So what I will say is that the film, in essence, explores the darker, often forgotten characteristics of Peter Pan, and consequences of these character flaws. After the film was screened writer/director Kellen Moore briefly mentioned that the Walt Disney Peter Pan, which has become the most notable version of Peter Pan was not the full character that J.M. Barrie’s work had described. Which is true. It was clear that East of Kensington had the full version of Peter Pan, and wanted to explore who he is and what makes him tick.
Aside from how exceptionally well it was produced, from the coloring to the casting to constructed sets (which I swore was a scouted home that was built in the 1920s but as actually put together in a soundstage!), what makes East of Kensington such a grand success was their care and attention to Peter Pan. Every element of the film felt perfectly becoming of J.M. Barrie’s story and Peter Pan lore as a whole. There was never a moment where I felt something was out of place or didn’t feel right. Which is saying a lot considering Peter is put into a situation far from any he has ever faced before. Even so, everything felt exactly right. The lines Peter spat to his nemesis, the way he walked, the Lost Boys and their games, and the entirely new histories constructed for these well-known and beloved characters. The familiar details of the costumes, photographs, and mannerisms were all recognizable as inherently Peter Pan. My eyes were darting around the screen trying to take in all the imagery, and nothing was incompletely or out of place. But just the same, the bold, even hard choices which may not be so easily recognizable, I can assure you from a Peter Pan enthusiast like myself, they were all too fitting.
What I mean to say by that is, it hurt. The film was so good, it hurt. Kellen Moore tapped aspects and themes of Peter Pan that were always there, but never noticed, and explored them in a way that was heart-wrenching. The characters had their hearts broken on screen and I in the audience felt their pain. The actors, Jack Griffo and Time Winters, were extraordinary in their roles. They were genuine and engaging in their respective roles. I described Winters’ eyes lighting up with tragedy. And later I heard stories of moments in Griffo’s performance as Peter being unscripted and thus very real. The two, supported by Moore and creative consultant Andrew Ducote, had built honest and fully layered characters who went to the dark, new places Moore wished to explore without betraying their original creator.
Furthermore, as they were surrounded by the rest of cast who must have sacrificed their hearts as well, the impeccable sets, the gorgeous cinematography, and the seamless effects, an exceptional production came together. Perfectly. East of Kensington was an outstanding film and a masterpiece of Peter Pan lore.
What I appreciated most about the film was the obvious care that was put into it. Every aspect of the film has fully fleshed and had been given the utmost attention to the last detail. It was clear that the entire team involved truly cared about make a quality production. And that they cared about these characters and respected them and J.M. Barrie’s work, and wanted to portray them wholly and earnestly. And I can safely say I’m not just saying that. I had the privilege to meet cinematographer Joe Sill, producers Eric Davies and Grace Babbes, Kellen, Andrew, Jack, and a others who made this film happen afterward. They were kind enough to let me gush and praise their work and to share their experiences throughout the production with me. So I know how much they wanted to be a success and did what it took to make that happen. And it was a success.
Kellen, Andrew, and Jack even went so far as to talk Peter Pan lore and theory with me, which I have to say was really cool. It’s not often I find fellow Pan enthusiasts which I can converse like nerds with. So thank you guys for that. And while I’m hear and dropping the formality, let me say it was a pleasure to meet you all and pretty awesome that you were excited to meet me as well. I wish you the best with what can only be continued success for this film.
But getting back on topic; I was impressed and entertained as both a fan of Peter Pan and a filmmaker. And as both, I fully appreciate the work and integrity that went into making this film, as I can only imagine all who see it will as well, because everything that the team had shared with us through the process made it onto the screen.