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    Behind the Scenes with Kentuckian and "Runoff" movie Writer / Director Kim Levin
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    Kentucky native Kimberly Levin once spent her days as a biochemist researching peptides in plants and the effects of heavy metal exposure. She helped uncover a textile factory dumping effluent into a small stream that fed into Lake Cumberland, affecting the surrounding area's drinking water. But she now spends her days in a whole new field, traveling and answering questions as her first feature length film rolls out in fifteen cities across the country.  

    "Runoff" was filmed on location throughout Kentucky and is described as a "thrilling drama and narrative." Joanne Kelly (TV’s "Warehouse 13") stars as a woman faced with a tough decision while caring for a sick husband (Neal Huff - HBO's "The Wire") and fighting to keep her economically challenged farm. Alex Shaffer ("The Lifeguard") and Tom Bower ("Die Hard 2") round out the primary cast, but the majority of cast and crew are Kentucky natives. The feature length is currently playing at Village 8 Theaters, where the screenings and Q/A sessions with Levin have been extended until August 13 due to popular demand. 

    Levin's previous experience served her storytelling abilities, although this film does not feature any of her research in biochemistry. She says that she learned a lot about consequences from her research, but she always had a deeper interest in sharing her discoveries with a broad audience and telling stories that deal with difficult situations.

    "My work in the lab got me thinking and meditating on people faced with difficult decisions," she said. "The people at this company were faced with the dilemma of putting dinner on the table or affecting their drinking water - or maybe they had blinders on and weren't fully aware. It definitely pushed me to think about how we prioritize when we have a decision between the lesser of two evils. 'Runoff' features a woman in a very tough spot."

    Levin didn't go from scientist to filmmaker overnight. She honed her skills as a directing intern to Jon Jory at Actor's Theatre and at the Humana  Festival of New American Plays in 1995. She then moved to New York City, where she directed on and off Broadway. She debuted her film career with her award winning short film "Between Baronovskys," which was also filmed in the Kentuckiana area, after attending the graduate film program at New York University. She met producer Kurt Pitzer about ten years ago in Brooklyn and began the long journey of independent production.

    "Kurt is kind of like a secret weapon," Levin said. "His background as a war correspondent made him absolutely unshakeable on set. No matter what production issues were faced, he stayed calm and kept everyone in good spirits. He put forth the continual message 'The village is not on fire; everything is ok.' It was also a huge gift to co-produce with a partner that is also a writer and so focused on the characters and story. At the end of the day, he was as focused as I was on getting the shots and making the performances the best they could be while keeping the production quality at its highest."

    It seems the story has greatly contributed to the success of this production. The screenplay was one of the top scripts in the 2009 Nicholl Screenwriting Competition (the Oscars' contest for unproduced screenplays.) It was developed with input from the Sundance Institute and was a fellow of the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) and the European Tastemaker Forum UsinProgress. The screenplay had interest from major studios, but Levin realized that option wasn't the best fit after meeting with them. 

    "A lot of films are made for New York or Los Angeles audiences," she admitted. "I wanted to make something with landscapes and characters that people in between could appreciate and relate to. Kurt and I realized that it was going to have to be an independent production if we wanted the creative license to produce this film to be true to the story and accurately represent the Midwest people it portrays." 

    Levin said the studios wanted to change the ending to make the story happier, which would have changed the whole tone of the film. So she worked with Pitzer to raise the funding and maintain her artistic integrity. The film's fundraising needs were met with private equity primarily from Kentucky, but Levin said the transition from short film to feature length was a test of endurance.

    "No amount of doing shorts really prepares you for the endurance when you set out to make a feature," she said.
    "I think a lot of people would turn back if they knew just how much work it is. Every day is a challenge. There is a lot you have to figure out as you go, but as I was going, I remembered all the energy, resources, time and love people put into the project so it could be an artistic reality, and that was kind of what drove me on to keep going."

    The film will be available digitally via itunes, Amazon and other outlets starting August 18, 2015, but the theatrical release has been received with wild praise from critics and audiences alike with extended runs in Los Angeles, New York and now Louisville. It is also being honored with a private screening at an "invitation only" celebration for the Kentucky film tax incentive hosted by Louisville Film Society, the Kentucky Film Office and Metro Louisville. 

    "It was incredibly evident that we would choose 'Runoff,'" said Soozie Eastman, executive director of Louisville Film Society."This film exemplifies that everything needed to make a great film is here in Kentucky: the talent, the crew, the locations and now the incentives."

    Said producer Kurt Pitzer, “The critical reception to the film is a testament to our wonderful cast and crew and the many people who helped us film throughout the state. [In addition to the local cast and initial investors,] the Kentucky Film Office helped in many ways, including finding locations and hard-to-source items such as a crop-duster plane. Sheriff's deputies closed roads and even appeared on screen with EMTs. The production benefited from the generosity of countless Kentuckians who opened their homes and lent a hand - and the production gave back, supporting local businesses in a touchy economic climate.”
     

    “We’re thrilled to be bringing 'Runoff' home,” said Levin. “It was a gift to make 'Runoff' in Kentucky. The imagery in the film is a visual love letter to the Bluegrass State.”

    Remaining show times are on the Village 8 website, where you can also purchase tickets in advance. Interested parties can follow the Runoff Facebook page for additional screenings and question/answer sessions as they are added. 

     

    Photos provided by Kurt Pitzer. Top and top left: Levin works with her cast and crew. Bottom Right: Kelly and Huff in an endearing scene on the farm. 

     

    Jessica Lynn's picture

    About Jessica Lynn

    Jessica Lynn has been writing for Louisville.com since fall of 2010 and has also been published in LEO, Velocity, Voice-Tribune and others after serving as Editor in Chief of The JCC student newspaper, The Quadrangle. She has also served as columnist or contributing writer to an array of online publications.

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