Russ Rayburn of Crystal Lake has enjoyed many a film at Classic Cinemas Woodstock Theatre. On May 13, he’ll watch his debut feature film as cinematographer appear on the big screen.
The theater is hosting a screening of “The Divide,” an independent western featuring Rayburn as director of photography and Perry Kingas as director and lead actor. Rayburn’s wife, Jane, served as the film’s artdirector.
Screenings at 1 and 7 p.m. May 13 at the theater, 209 Main St., will be followed by Q&A sessions with Rayburn and King. King also will host a meet-and-greet at 6:15 p.m. before the evening show. Tickets cost $6 for the matinee and seniors and $8 for the evening show at the door, classiccinemas.com/woodstock or fandango.com.
For the Rayburns and all involved in “The Divide,” seeing the film on the big screen represents the fulfillment of a longtime dream, as well as the satisfaction of a job well done.
Making the film festival circuit in limited release for more than a year, the film has won numerous awards for best feature film, directing, acting, screenwriting and cinematography.
“We’ve had so many people that we know ask, ‘When can we see it?’ ” Russ Rayburn said.
A fan of the historic Woodstock Theatre, which regularly hosts independent, art, foreign, classic or documentary films, Rayburn said it was a natural fit for the screening.
Set in drought-plagued Northern California in 1976, “The Divide” tells the story of Sam Kincaid, an aging rancher with a failing memory, his estranged daughter and a young ranch hand in the midst of a family in crisis.
Described as old-fashioned and filmed entirely in black and white on King’s ranch land, the film’s cinematography plays a major role in telling the story.
“It just needed to be a film that had a stark quality to it to fit the story, and I was thrilled shooting it in black and white,” Rayburn said. “It was more of a challenge, and it was more rewarding, too. It let me do something different and work toward that goal of making the film look like the story should feel. Black and white is not for every film, but it certainly was for this one.”
King had wanted to make his own film since he started acting nearly 50 years ago, landing roles on stage and in television and film. He’s perhaps best known for his role in 1980s’ TV series “Riptide,” and has appeared in movies, such as “The Day After Tomorrow,” “The Lords of Flatbush” and “The Slaughterhouse-Five.” He won a Golden Globe Award for his role in the television movie, “The Hasty Heart,” in 1995.
With “The Divide,” he set out to create a classic western. Depicting the worst drought in California’s history, filming actually took place during an even more extensive drought in 2015 when temperatures regularly reached higher than 100 degrees and range fires broke out nearby.
“The story is about drought,” King said. “It’s about all kinds of drought, drought of the land, drought of the man I’m playing, his mind, drought of his family. Another theme is redemption, which has always been the theme I loved. That’s always been the theme that sings to me.”
Located near the American River, the land where the filming took place is known as “The Divide,” a title that also worked well for the film as it describes what’s happening to the characters.
The film addresses Alzheimer’s disease during a time of little awareness. To prepare, King said he spent a lot of time in nursing homes talking to those with the disease, as well as dementia. Much of the film is centered around King’s character and his family trying to figure out what’s happening to him.
King and Rayburn had met years ago while producing “Ride to Adventure: Extreme,” a reality show on The Outdoor Channel about off-road adventures. King had appeared in an episode, and the two hit it off as King shared his dream to make a western.
A four-decade veteran of the production industry, Rayburn owns Winding Road Films and has worked on commercials, documentaries, entertainment, sports and news.
He filmed “The Divide” in sequence at the request of Perry, who also didn’t want a makeup artist on set. Perry would prepare by driving through his ranch in his truck as dust swirled. He’d rub the dust from his truck on his face.
Atypical for today’s filmmaking, shooting in sequence allowed the actors to experience the story in the same way as the audience, King said.
Also unusual, the cast and crew were not shown any parts of the day’s filming, and cameras kept rolling even in between takes.
“It’s a more traditional style of filmmaking like you would do in the old days when you shoot a film,” Rayburn said.
Seeing the film on the big screen for the first time, Rayburn said, he was proud of its sharpness and simply to be a part of it.
Efforts are underway to release the film digitally, as well.
“It’s the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done in my life,” King said. “Nothing comes close. It’s without doubt my favorite film I’ve ever done.”