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Meet the 2015 Sundance Flmmakers #52: A Star-Studded Cast Gathers for ‘A Walk in the Woods’

Meet the 2015 Sundance Flmmakers #52: A Star-Studded Cast Gathers for 'A Walk in the Woods'

Ken Kwapis has long been a prolific director of both film and television, having helmed high-grossing movies including “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and critically-acclaimed sitcoms such as “The Office.” His newest film, the hiking buddy comedy “A Walk in the Woods,” brings the director to Sundance along with his A-list cast, which includes Mary Steenburgen, Nick Nolte and Sundance founder Robert Redford.

What’s your film about, in 140 characters or less?

“A Walk in the Woods” is an
adaptation of Bill Bryson’s 1998 travel memoir, in which Bryson recounts his
attempt to hike the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail. Bryson’s hiking partner is
his childhood friend Stephen Katz. Neither man is in prime shape; indeed, this
trek could not be more ill-advised.

Now, what’s it REALLY about?

The story is really about
the nature of male friendship. Bryson and Katz, who were once the closest of
friends, had a falling-out during a misadventure in Europe. They haven’t seen
each other for decades. Their paths have diverged dramatically. Bryson is a
celebrated author. Katz is a complete wash-out. Katz basically invites himself
to join Bryson on the trek, and their emotional reunion forms the core of the
story.

Tell us briefly about yourself.

I grew up in a small town in
southern Illinois (Belleville). I went to college in Chicago (Northwestern),
and though I have lived in Los Angeles for decades, I am told I still have a
distinctive Midwestern drawl. The first film I remember seeing was “King Kong vs. Godzilla” (1962). I saw it at a drive-in and I was so terrified I hid under
the dashboard for most of the picture. Maybe someday I’ll get the nerve to
watch it again.

What was the biggest challenge in completing this film?

Much of the film was shot
deep in the Georgia woods, and it was no small task hauling film equipment to
various remote locations. Naturally, the sites I found most spectacular were
the most inaccessible. At one point we actually enlisted the help of two camels
to carry our gear.

What do you want audiences at Sundance to take away from your film?

“A Walk in the Woods” is an
optimistic picture. Robert Redford and Nick Nolte play two guys who are well
past their prime, men who really shouldn’t attempt such a challenging trek.
Yet, they trudge forward because they simply will “not go gentle into that
good night.” They’re thumbing their nose at the naysayers; indeed, they’re
thumbing their nose at death itself. Until it’s over, they remind us, the game
is still afoot.

Are there any films that inspired you?

Over the holidays, I took my family to a screening of “Horse Feathers,” starring the Marx Brothers. Seeing Groucho in a cap and gown singing
“Whatever it is, I’m against it” reminded me that for all the
bullshit we have to endure to get our films made, it’s worth the fight.

What’s next for you?

“I just directed a half-hour pilot for Showtime entitled HAPPYISH, written by Shalom Auslander and starring Steve Coogan. I plan to oversee the series, which will make its debut on April 26.”

What cameras did you shoot on?

“A Walk in the Woods” was
shot on 35mm and digitally. My longtime cinematographer John Bailey and I
decided to use 35mm for all the scenes on the Appalachian Trail, partly for its
richness and partly for its portability.

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. Click here for more profiles.

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