Features

Project brings alums back to RI

By
Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It represents a homecoming of sorts.

“Tanner Hall,” a film set amid Rhode Island’s picturesque landscape and historic architecture, brought its creators — Francesca Gregorini ’90 and Tatiana von Furstenberg ’91 — back to the birthplace of their friendship.

The independent film is the brainchild of the two best friends and filmmakers. Filmed in various locations throughout Rhode Island, the film tells the coming-of-age stories of four girls at a boarding school.

The movie was “a great excuse for us to go back to a place we love,” Gregorini said. “It felt amazing to come full circle.”

To capture “the natural beauty and architectural value” essential to creating a timeless movie, producer Julie Snyder suggested the filmmakers look toward Rhode Island, von Furstenberg said.

Drawn to the women’s vision of an enduring coming-of-age story, Snyder, whose earlier film jobs included finding locations to shoot films, used her skills to hone in on settings that would fit the criteria of the movie, she said.

“What is great about Rhode Island is that you can get any look you want,” Snyder said. The East Side’s Nathan Bishop Middle School, constructed in 1929, was a prime location because it provided architectural details they were looking for, Snyder said. They also filmed in Pawtucket, Newport and Pascoag, according to the Providence Journal.
Rhode Island “was a really nurturing place for first time filmmakers,” Snyder said.

“The Rhode Island film office was extremely accommodating,” von Furstenberg added.
Not only did the Ocean State have the ambiance they were looking for, but the state also gave them a tax credit, she said.

The filmmakers aimed to make a “folktale, timeless … this-could-happen-to-anyone” kind of movie, von Furstenberg said. To achieve that effect, they used furniture and costumes from four decades so time-specific trends would not define the timespan of the entire film, she said.

Teen dramas like “American Pie” “stereotype the adolescent experience in a shallow way,” von Furstenberg said.”It is a very deep and complex time in the human experience,” she added. “The emergence out of childhood into adulthood … is a time we are both nostalgic for.”

“I think coming of age is such a universal theme,” Gregorini added.

In addition to young and teenaged girls, middle-aged viewers and senior citizens can also relate to the film, because it “reminds them of their youth,” Snyder said.


Connecting on College Hill

Both Gregorini and von Furstenburg attended boarding schools in England , but their paths didn’t cross until they arrived on College Hill. It wasn’t until Gregorini, the more extroverted of the two, and the studious von Furstenberg met through a mutual friend that their friendship flourished.

While at Brown, both Gregorini and von Furstenberg studied theater arts. Von Furstenberg also concentrated in semiotics — since incorporated into the Department of Modern Culture and Media.

“I really like storytelling, … character creating, creating a world,” von Furstenberg said.
Screenwriting and acting classes “really taught (me) to think and to be as creative as possible,” Gregorini said. “I found it invaluable.”

The film didn’t just reunite Gregorini and von Furstenburg but also reconnected the two with their former theater teacher, Professor of Theatre, Speech and Dance Lowry Marshall, whom they cast in the role of headmistress.

“She was very intimidating when Francesca and I were students,” von Furstenberg explained.

Dancers from Brown also appeared in the film.

Gregorini said she hopes that, after their movie is picked up, they will have a screening at Brown.

Coming of age

Both Gregorini and von Furstenberg took a winding road back to Rhode Island.

Since graduating from Brown, von Furstenberg has worked as a journalist, created a board game that was never produced, had a daughter, opened a store — and now she’s a filmmaker.

“Really it has been a very mixed bag of things. … I really think I finally found something that combines all aspects of who I am,” von Furstenberg said. “I feel so fulfilled through it.”
After her graduation, Gregorini joined a band, with which she later split to pursue a solo career in music.

Before “Tanner Hall,” Gregorini and von Furstenberg created multiple shorts, and Gregorini shot a pilot for HBO.

The lesson of their lives is that there is time to explore and find a calling, Gregorini said. “When you get out and don’t find your footing right away, don’t panic.”