The CT native’s pandemic thriller hits the film festival circuit


Connecticut has been the backdrop for many Christmas movies and Netflix movies, so a movie about a psychological analysis of a veteran in isolation amid the pandemic might not be the first idea that comes to mind when you think of movies set in the ‘State. However, this premise is sweeping film festivals across the country and earning accolades along the way.

Directed by Branford native Christopher Rucinski, “northern shadowis a high-intensity thriller that follows U.S. Army veteran Justin McLaughlin as he attempts to solve the mystery behind his brother’s disappearance and recruitment into an extreme militia. Meanwhile, Justin faces his own demons during the pandemic as he struggles to reintegrate into civilian life.

Rucinski’s feature debut, “Northern Shade”, was shot primarily in Branford with iconic local landmarks like Stony Creek Quarry, ZuWalick Sawmill and the Quinnipiac River appearing throughout the film.

The film has since won “Best Screenplay” at the Phoenix Film Festival and “Best Feature” at the Poppy Jasper Film Festival. It is currently slated to have its Massachusetts premiere next month at the Woods Hole Film Festival, and is currently awaiting selection from other film festivals, according to Rucinski. It will have its local premiere at Bow Tie Criterion Cinemas in New Haven on July 7, 14 and 21, with each screening featuring a post-movie Q&A with Rucinski.

Rucinski graduated from Branford High School in 2004 with Greg Gill, the film’s cinematographer. Rucinski said he was inspired to pursue film after taking a class with Roger Reale, a local music and art legend.

From their humble beginnings at Branford, the two have solidified themselves in the film world. Gill has traveled the world to document everything from “Islamic State prisoners in Iraq to the search for snow leopards deep in the Himalayas”. During this time Rucinski became a notable post-production filmmaker with work in ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’, ‘Ford v Ferrari’ and ‘The Adam Project’.

“It was pretty easy to take all the lessons we learned from bigger projects and apply them to our movie, which had a much smaller scale,” Rucinski said. “It was a micro-budget movie, but we were definitely asking a lot of the cast and crew just in terms of plot and story scope.”

Rucinski said he finished the script at the end of 2019, but revisited it once the pandemic hit and “rewrote the script to take place during COVID to kind of make it even shooting possible”. Its reworked “COVID-compliant” script had to remove scenes featuring people gathering unnecessarily. In total, more than 75 people were employed on the film between filming in California and Connecticut.

“We made it clear to the cast and crew that if anyone had COVID we would shut down,” Rucinski added. “If someone had contracted COVID, the film probably wouldn’t have been successful.”

After working with local officials, “Northern Shade” was able to operate successfully amid the pandemic beginning in November 2020. Rucinski said he believes the pandemic context adds a “backdrop of anxiety and alienation” to the already emotionally complicated story.

“It made the isolation of the characters more realistic because everyone felt it,” Rucinski said.

Hoping to tell a more grounded story, Rucinski partly based part of the plot on the life of Kyle Berg, who served as the film’s co-producer and military technical advisor. Berg grew up with Rucinski and Gill, and served in the military as a combat engineer during Operation Enduring Freedom. Rucinski said he worked on the script with him, and Berg also helped train the actors during scenes involving guns and tactical movements.

Rucinski credits the work of Mark Dixon with Connecticut Office of Film, Television and Digital Media, and Perry Maresca, Branford’s Director of Economic and Business Development, for steering the team in the right direction in terms of filming locations and contacts in the area. Thanks to them, Rucinski said he was able to shoot in “very unique places where I wanted to film since I was a kid”.

We also credit a Kickstarter Campaign, which raised more than $21,000 for the project last year. That $21,000, according to the Kickstarter page, went towards post-production work, including visual effects, sound editing, and music licensing.

The poster for “Northern Shade”.

Contributed by Chris Rucinski

For distribution of “Northern Shade,” Rucisnki said he partnered with California-based Blood Sweat Honey, responsible for indie hits such as “The Big Lebowski” and “The Blair Witch Project.” He hopes that eventually he will be able to get the film on streaming platforms and on Redbox.

The film is expected to have a limited theatrical release in major markets, but Rucisnki felt it was important for the film to have a Connecticut premiere this summer.

“I really want to make sure that all of Connecticut gets to see it on the big screen as well,” Rucisnki said.

“Northern Shade” will make its Connecticut debut at the Bow Tie Criterion Cinema at 86 Temple St. in New Haven. The screenings will take place on July 7, 14 and 21. Each screening includes a Q&A with Rucinsky and other members of the creative team after the film. The following people will moderate the Q&A: Perry Maresca on July 7, Gorman Bechard on July 14, and Roger Reale on July 21.


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