Reed Morano has been one of the indie scene’s most reliable cinematographers for the past eight years, working on Sundance sensations like “Frozen River,” “Kill Your Darlings” and “The Skeleton Twins” and acclaimed television shows like HBO’s “Looking,” among many other projects. Morano has proven dynamic under the vision of other filmmakers, but she’s at long last come into her own by crossing over into the director’s chair with her debut film “Meadowland,” a startling and sensitive drama that premiered to considerable acclaim at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. Acquired by Cinedigm and released in select theaters last month, the film had all the trademarks of Morano’s vulnerable handheld camera work, though it also proves just how effective she is at collaborating with actors and mining some harrowing subject matter.
Starring Olivia Wilde in a revelatory dramatic performance, “Meadowland” picks up with a struggling couple in the year after their young son has gone missing. Wilde’s Sarah processes her grief with a disturbing calm and increasingly unusual habits, and her job as a schoolteacher only serves to remind her of the precious gift she lost. Luke Wilson plays her police officer husband Phil, who turns to support groups and alcohol to cope with his suffering. The film is no easy watch, but Morano’s serene direction and Wilde’s crippling performance juxtapose for an emotional experience that’s hard to shake long after the credits roll.
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While the director and Olivia Wilde have been encountering all sorts of audiences as they’ve toured numerous festivals across the country, they have found a once-in-a-lifetime supporter in Martin Scorsese, who hosted a star-studded screening of the film at MoMA on Monday, November 23, sponsored by Michael Kors. Drawing an audience that included Chris Rock, Bobby Cannavale, Ellen Burstyn, Rebecca Hall and more, the evening was a subdued affair given the film’s weighty subject matter, though everyone was certainly left in awe over Wilde’s incredible career turn and Morano’s bold debut as a director.
The two were starstruck over the fact that such a tiny indie drama has earned the backing of an icon like Scorsese, even though the evening was a family reunion of sorts as the three are all involved on the upcoming HBO rock n’ roll drama “Vinyl.” Wilde is in front of the camera, of course, while Scorsese is serving as an executive producer and Morano as DP on five of the episodes.
“It was an honor and a real pleasure working with Olivia, she’s amazing. There was an amazing rapport and it was an extraordinary thing,” Scorsese said. “I’d see [Reed] around set and I think she’s done an amazing job on these episodes. We’re still working on them. We’re on episode 105 right now and I’m also trying to finish ‘Silence,’ which we shot in Taipei right after.”
As for what he loves most about “Meadowland,” Scorsese continued, “In this film, the level and emotional depth [Olivia] reaches and the power that she has as an actor on screen is extraordinary, yet nuanced and detailed. You never know where she is going to go…What I’m also fascinated by in this film is Reed’s work not only as a cinematographer but also as a director. For me, it’s always interesting to see a film with this kind of subject matter, this level of acting and portrayal — [actors] inhabiting these roles, visually interpreted in a personal way. What you see there is what Reed is making you see through that lens, and it’s extraordinary in terms of unique personal storytelling visually through the size of the focal length and focus. I was just taken by the whole picture.”
“I must be sleeping. This is a wonderful dream we’re participating in,” Wilde humbly said of the evening. “Marty is truly a supporter of independent film in such an authentic way and he continues to be. He inspires us to try different things and fight the good fights, so we are all so grateful to him. This night is very special for me because both Marty and Reed are directors who have completely changed my life, changed my perspective on this business and the way I work, and they’re just two extraordinary people. To be here with them is enormous for me.”
“This film is by far the most challenging and most gratifying thing I’ve ever been apart of,” she continued. “To produce it was an honor, to be the partner of Reed Morano was extraordinary. I learned so much from her, mostly how to be tough as nails and how to fight and not give up and how to protect the material you believe in and how to really throw yourself on the tracks for it. It’s the first of many films to be directed by Reed, and I’m so lucky to be in the first one. This is just the beginning of her career as a director.”
Morano reinforced just how “amazing, weird, surreal, crazy and awesome” it was to have Scorsese as an admirer of her debut. The film couldn’t be more stylistically different than Scorsese’s expansive filmography, though it packs a powerful emotional response in the viewer that isn’t too far from what everyone knows Scorsese is capable of. Luckily, Morano is being embraced with open arms in her new role as director by more members of the community, as she just received a Film Independent Spirit Awards nomination for Best Cinematography yesterday.
Looks like “Meadowland” is now both a Scorsese-backed and award-nominated project. Not bad for a debut film.