A Dim Valley: releasing a low-budget feature during the pandemic

A Dim Valley
July 7th 2021

Screen Slate invited Tony Oswald, producer of A Dim Valley, to write about the filmmakers’ experiences releasing a low-budget regional feature in cinemas as they begin to reopen

A viewer of Brandon Colvin’s third feature A Dim Valley would be forgiven for believing it was shot during the peak of the pandemic. A dearth of establishing shots rarely places characters in the same space, and medium close-ups frequently isolate them in the frame. Dr. Clarence Rumble (Robert Longstreet) sits alone in a squeaky office chair. Biology grad student Ian (Zach Weintraub) eyes the glowing bare ass of his obnoxious classmate Albert (Whitmer Thomas) in the twin bed across their shared room. Deities that appear in a weed-hazed vision to disrupt their lives each get their own ghostly close-up. Through gazes, eyebrow raises, deep sighs and a dream pop soundscape, A Dim Valley foregrounds a yearning for connection that many of us came to accept as inevitable in the last year.

But in the summer of 2018, our cast and crew of 25 in Morehead, Kentucky, couldn’t have felt further from that reality. The cabin we shot in served as our production hub and was thirty minutes from the nearest grocery store in a dry county with no cell service. In my memory, scenes of the dryad Iris (Rachel McKeon) floating in a lake, encouraging Albert to open up and accept the growing softness within him, intermingle with the reality of all of us lazing in the pool at Brandon’s house at night. The karaoke bar featured in the movie, depicted as a desolate, bisexually lit space to reckon with regret and love lost was actually our karaoke bar as a crew. It was a magical summer camp built on the notion that people can cram themselves into small spaces with their friends and make romantic, funny movies together for very little money.

After a leisurely post-production period we began to receive good news of festival acceptance, but the pandemic soon deflated any hope for a traditional festival run or theatrical release. Working in genuinely independent cinema often feels Sisyphean, but for anyone who had a movie face the digital festival circuit this year, whose hopes to attend a few parties, make genuine connections, and see live audiences engaged with their work turned into a series of Zoom calls, it was particularly bleak (despite everyone’s best efforts). The alienation of A Dim Valley was made real with all of its melancholy tragedy, very little of its imagination for a new whimsical and graceful world.

Miraculously, Colvin procured a deal with Altered Innocence, and after three years, as the rollout of vaccines has allowed for the gradual return of communal viewing, the film secured a week-long run at Quad Cinema in NYC and another week long run in Laemmle Glendale in LA starting on 7/9. Reuniting with the cast and crew this week for the first time since we shot, coaxing friends we haven’t seen in years to the theater with us, cautiously sharing space, daring to be back in the world again feels like the best way to celebrate this movie on the waning side of the pandemic.