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James C. Strouse, Grace is Gone


This article is part of Filmmaker’s Sundance 2007 Special Coverage.

Certain films arrive at Sundance with a special type of anticipation, whether it’s due to star presence, subject matter, timeliness, or some ineffable quality that is the stuff of buzz. At Sundance 2007, Grace is Gone is one of those films. The directorial debut of James C. Strouse, who wrote Lonesome Jim (the Steve Buscemi-directed film screened at Sundance in 2005), the film tells the heart-wrenching story of a father, played by John Cusack, who must find a way to tell his children that their mother has been killed in Iraq. A film about the psychic repercussions of violence and the toll taken on the families of soldiers, Grace is Gone is not a war film — it’s a film about parents and children searching for peace and stability in a time of war.

When he isn’t premiering his feature films at Sundance, James C. Strouse is an MFA student at Columbia University — for fiction writing. – James Ponsoldt

Grace is Gone screens at Sundance in Dramatic Competition.

Can you say a little bit about your background? I’m from Northern Indiana, specifically, Goshen. I’m 29. I wrote Lonesome Jim which was directed by Steve Buscemi.

Can you briefly describe what inspired your film?
Inspiration for this idea came from a lot of places. It’s hard to pinpoint one source. I let the idea kind of brew in my head for a while before writing anything, but once I did start writing, it came flowing out.

Who are some of the people you collaborated with?
My d.p. was Jean-Louis Bompoint. Jean-Louis is a very inspired French Man. We had a little bit of a language barrier between us so we communicated through movies. We took turns showing each other our favorite films every night of pre-production. My films were almost all American (Badlands, Paper Moon), and his were all French (Lola, Hiroshima, Mon Amour). In the end I think our aesthetics blended very nicely and we created a unique look for the film out of it.

Were there any compromises you had to make on this film? Anything you’d do differently?
I’d say I more or less was able to shoot the script I wrote. Of course, there are things I wish I could go back and do over but I tried to turn my mistakes into virtues.

Any film influences?
The fiction writers Richard Yates, Grace Paley, Barry Hannah and Tobias Wolff, to name a few. The filmmakers Elaine May, Hal Ashby, Sidney Lumet and Robert Altman. Also, Steve Buscemi has been a big influence and inspiration. I’ve always admired his work as an actor and director. And I can say after working with him on Lonseome Jim that he is just a first rate man in every respect. He really inspired me to give directing a try.

What are your expectations for Sundance?
I hope the movie is received well and that audiences feel moved in an honest way. Also, I hope the film gets a good distribution deal that allows for the film to get seen.

Any films you’re excited to see at Sundance?
Great Wall of Sound, The Savages, Dedication, Padre Nuestro, The Ten, Delirious, Interview.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve read or received about filmmaking?
I’ve come across a lot of great advice while preparing for the film. Practically every work in Sidney Lumet’s book Making Movies was helpful to me. But the thing that comes to mind right now is a quote from Steven Spielberg… I read somewhere that he tells all first-time directors to work out before production because sometimes the body just can’t keep up with a film schedule. So I started running a couple of months before production, and I’m really glad I did.

What’s your favorite/least favorite question to read in interviews with directors?
My favorite is “What were your biggest mistakes?” because I think an honest answer to this question can be very valuable for someone trying to make films himself. I’m not sure I have a least favorite… maybe, “What was the budget of your film?”

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