'A Picture of You': Milford movie comes home

NYC filmmaker J.P. Chan says Pike County's natural beauty gave meaning to his first full-length movie

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  • A scene from "A Picture of You."

  • Ken Henwood's house in Dingmans Ferry, pictured, inspired filmmaker J.P. Chan. (Photo provided)

  • A scene from "A Picture of You."

  • The movie poster.

Essential information

What: Screening of “A Picture of You”
When: 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 3, and Saturday, Oct. 4; and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 5
Where: Majestic Cinema 7, 111 Hulst Drive, Matamoras
For more information: apoyfilm.com

By Vicki Botta

— This weekend, Pike County residents will get to see a special showing of a movie — “A Picture of You” — filmed entirely on their home turf. They'll also get a chance to meet the filmmaker and some of the actors who live locally.

J.P. Chan is debuting his first feature film, and is especially excited to share it with local residents in appreciation for the role Pike County played in making the movie a success.

“We were really able to juxtaposition the family in the film who were mourning a loss of life while they were surrounded by life,” said Chan, who lives in New York City. "The natural beauty of the area really helped the story. It's gorgeous."

The story was written by Chan after a longtime friend and mentor, Ken Henwood, showed him his unusual house in Dingman's Ferry. Henwood had given Chan his first job, an administrative position, when he was just out of New York University, and they've remained in touch ever since.

“If there was anyone I knew I could trust with the house, it was Joseph,” said Henwood.

Henwood bought the house from the widow of the architect Giuseppe Zambonini, a theater director and architect. He came from Italy for a meeting in Washington, and stayed. The house reflects the connection he'd always seen between both arts. Built in 1986-87, it is, in Henwood's words, “a dramatic theatrical place where dreams happen."

He knew Chan would be moved by the house, he said.

"Making the film was a nice way of paying tribute to the architect," said Henwood.

For a month, the cast and crew, some from Los Angeles and New York City, arrived at 7 a.m. and worked until 7 p.m. They moved the owner around “like he was furniture” as they filmed in every room, including the pantry. Then the director and cinematographer stay up until 10 discussing what they would do the following day.

“It was an incredible amount of work, and they were disciplined," Henwood said. “It was very interesting to see it all happen."

A self-taught filmmaker

Chan studied urban planning in college and presently works for the MTA as a transportation planner. As a filmmaker, he is self-taught. Up until now, he has mostly worked on short films no more than ten minutes long.

“A Picture of You," his first full-length feature, was screened last year in New York City, Pasadena, California, and Honolulu, with more cities to follow. Chan is already working on his second feature film, which isn't entirely written yet.

He'd always been interested in filmmaking, but his working class parents divorced when he was young. And while other kids had the luxury of studying their passions, his single mom did the best she could to help her son find a solid professional career. He was never talked out of filmmaking, but nobody encouraged him to pursue it either. He never forgot his passion for stories, and for capturing them on film.

Now in his forties, Chan is following his dream. He says he has a full-time day job and full-time film job.

A story of loss and discovery

While there are recurring themes in his films, Chan doesn't want to limit himself to any one genre. Even this film starts out as a serious drama then takes some comedic turns. Some people have told him it bears a striking resemblance to the beginning of “Bridges of Madison County,” a story about an adult brother and sister who convene to settle their mom's estate. But Chan says he's never seen the film. In "Bridges," the siblings discover that their mom had a secret life, which, at first, they find disturbing. In Chan's film it's a laid-back Asian family that's coming to terms with the loss of their mother. They make a discovery that completely turns the story around. You'll have to see “A Picture of You” to see the surprising way the story unfolds.

Local resident Sandy Statler, an actress who specializes in stern characters, who often have British accents, plays Emma, the next-door neighbor. She worked on the film one full day and one full night. Although her part in the film is only five minutes long, it took 24 hours to film. Statler performs regularly in productions at the Forestburgh Playhouse in Sullivan County, where she's acted ever since her daughter, now 26, performed in "Oliver" when she was ten. Her daughter is now an actress in her own right, living in New York City and performing in Oregon.

“It was wonderful," Statler said. "All were very professional and it was a fun experience, a very positive experience."

Karl Merchant, a retired National Park Service officer, also appears in the film.

Chan says the “indy” business is really tough. He works with a micro-budget and, now that the film has been released to theaters, hopes to make it available through iTunes. That way, he said, he'll be able to generate at least enough money to cover the cost of making the film. It's already appeared in several film festivals and is scheduled to appear in a few more.

Locals watching the film may recognize the Chinese Buffet, the Milford Diner, and the aisles of the Grand Union Supermarket. Chan had visited the area a couple of times before making the film, and put himself in the characters' shoes.

“I live in the city and love it, but I felt lucky to spend a month in Milford enjoying the beauty of the area,” said Chan.

The movie will be shown at the Majestic Cinema 7 in Matamoras at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and at 4 p.m. on Sunday. At the Friday and Saturday evening shows, the filmmaker, owner of the house and local actors will be available for questions and answers and to meet the public for photos.

To view the trailer, visit: http://bit.ly/1tkMGSd.

To view the list of upcoming screenings: visit apoyfilm.com/screenings.

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