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Four CA Alums Create Film Adaptation of ‘Walden’

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau writes that he kept three chairs in his small cabin in the woods: “One for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” The image was something screenwriter and ‘99 CA alum, Adam Chanzit, couldn’t resist when brainstorming ways to adapt the story of Walden for the screen, which he recently did with three other alums.

But the story of how these alums came together to create a film on Walden doesn’t begin there. Instead, it starts three years earlier when Alex Harvey, ’99, visited a concert of his longtime friend and CA classmate, Laura Goldhamer ‘02. After seeing the songwriter and musician merge non-stop animation in an inventive live performance, Harvey approached her with an idea.

“He was very enthusiastic and wanted to collaborate,” says Goldhamer, recalling the encounter. “And so he came up with the idea of doing a radical adaptation of Walden, and it evolved from there.”

It evolved to include Shane Boris ’00 as the producer; Chanzit as the screenwriter; Goldhamer as the composer and animator; and Harvey as the director. Having all met at Colorado Academy, the group had collaborated on different projects separately, but this was the first time they all came together to collaborate on a single project together.

“We did a test run in 2013, which included taking test footage,” says Harvey. “We shot for weeks just to see if the idea would work, and then spent the last year and a half building towards the actual shoot.”

The product of that work is a film that, according the website, “confronts our species’ addiction to comfort and panic, daring us to burn to ashes the things that starve us of our true selves.” Set in the mountains of Colorado, it’s a film where contemporary characters obliquely hit upon themes from the work in three separate stories representative of solitude, friendship and society.

The cast includes Lynn Cohen, known for her role as the nanny Magda in Sex and The City and Mags in The Hunger Games; T.J. Miller, known for his role in the HBO comedy series Silicon Valley and Transformers 4; Demián Bichir, known for the Showtime series Weeds and FX’s The Bridge; and Chris Sullivan, known for his role as Tom Cleary on The Knick and Toby on NBC’s, This Is Us, to name a few.

“It is humbling and life affirming to see that a personal connection between four people can become a web between nations.”

Harvey hopes the audience will take away the feeling that the work evokes. “When people read Thoreau,” says Harvey, “they listen to the world differently. They are sensitized in a different way.”

Adds Chanzit: “My goal is to tell a story that encompasses the energy of the book.”

Walden: Life in the Woods is set to debut at film festivals in 2017, a fortuitous time, as it is also the year that Thoreau turns 200. In addition, there will be an early viewing of pieces of the film at Colorado Academy on Friday, Nov. 4 from 6 to 8 p.m. featuring food and spirits, as well as music by Goldhamer. The event will be an opportunity to celebrate the work by bringing together the CA community.

Indeed, Harvey credits the friends he made at CA for the film’s beauty and reach. “The personal root of it has somehow allowed us to expand out exponentially to other people – actors, cinematographers, editors — who live in different worlds and operate in different cosmologies,” says Harvey. “It is humbling and life affirming to see that a personal connection between four people can become a web between nations.”

Adds Chanzit: “When you see a great film. You stop seeing it as a work and instead see it as a natural feature of the environment – like a mountain. A great film is like a great act of nature. It is incredible luck and a beautiful accident that we are where we are.”