GLENS FALLS — Kissed by Hawaiian chants at sunrise, Krisha Fairchild has tapped into her blessing later in life. And to meet her is to meet life head-on, as if she is whispering, Mahalo nui loa, mahina. (Gratitude to the moon).
The 65-year-old, who walked away from an acting career decades ago, is gaining international attention for her role in the film ‘Krisha,’ written and directed by her nephew, Trey Edward Schults.
“I am his aunt who was an actress. My having the opportunity at a time when I can stand strong for gender, stand strong for size and age, as an older woman, as a bigger woman, I feel empowered,” she said. “I am not a typical choice. It’s time to look where the talent is, to find the person inside.”
And on Friday, Krisha brought her light to the Adirondack Film Festival as she introduced the award-winning drama at the 190 Grille & Cinema. She laughs easily and her energy lingers long past her actual presence.
For nearly 15 years, Krisha raised her arms toward the Pacific shores in gratitude for her life. But two years ago, she traded her plumeria-scented days in Hawaii for San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. And when not traveling to international locations for the film, Krisha lives among blossoming lavender jacaranda trees and flaming crimson sunsets with her partner of two years and her dogs, Sadie Malia, Poncho and Baba.
In the film, a different Krisha emerges. Still beautiful, still someone you want to love. But her haunting desperation makes trusting her more difficult.
A pale Krisha draws viewers far inside her gold-speckled, nearly transparent green eyes, into a searing black hole of a stare that makes your heart want to believe, makes your heart want to scream, “Live, don’t do it,” even if your mind whispers, “No, it’s too late.”
Cast into the role of an aging addict by her nephew, Krisha brings a taut honesty to the ripple effect of addiction on families. And the film examines the damage ghosts of addiction leave behind in the shadows, with few brave enough to bring them into the light.
In her role as a mother who chooses her drugs of choice over her son and family, Krisha takes viewers uneasily into her head as her addiction spirals into depths only addicts can really understand. And when she stabs a pair of slender silver scissors into a corked wine bottle, frantically trying to release its contents, you want to stop her. “No!”
“Krisha” slowly moves viewers so far inside Krisha’s eyes that the distorted and isolated visions of a woman desperately clinging to a desire to change become our own.
“This movie brings pain out in the open,” Krisha said in an interview at The Queensbury Hotel on Friday morning. “There are millions of people walking around who have something they have not grieved.”
The film, initially funded with $14,000 from a Kickstarter campaign (although more funds came in from friends and family) was shot in nine days at director Schults’ mother’s Texas home. And his mother, Robyn, co-stars as Krisha’s sister and Schults plays Krisha’s estranged son.
With family members and family dogs cast in the majority of roles, “Krisha” was born out of a family tragedy. And despite its low budget and few professional actors, the film was an official selection of Critics’ Week at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and has already received a host of awards, including the South by Southwest 2015 Film Festival Grand Jury Award and Audience Award for a narrative feature and this year’s John Cassavetes Independent Spirit Award.
It opens with Krisha showing up at her sister’s home for Thanksgiving after a long absence. The reunion of sorts revolves around the pivotal holiday turkey Krisha insists on preparing by herself. And drop-by-drop shots — close-ups of Krisha pulling the gizzards from the turkey’s cavity — are sprinkled with intimate moments of joy, tension, dark observations, typical family games, off-beat outbursts and a musical score that starkly cranks up the tension.
As the turkey roasts, the film sears. And the audience, much like her family, wants to believe Krisha when she shares that she is getting better. But each time she steals away from her feast preparations, she retreats to her room, unlocking a battered metal black box.
Tensions continue to mount as the turkey roasts. And in a private conversation with her brother-in-law on the back porch, Krisha tries to maintain a cool reserve.
“You are heartbreak incarnate. You are a leaver. You think you can pop in and pop out,” he said to her. “You are malinformed. You make it sound like you are some college kid ... you’re in your 60s, get your ducks in a row. You are like some wounded bird hitting the windshield.”
And at some point, viewers may begin to wonder, is this Krisha’s real story, is she an addict?
But off-screen, Krisha barely imbibes. “I’m the type that might order a glass of wine and drink half,” she said. “I was the girded one in my family and I found the spiritual strength to not go through the rabbit hole.”
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The film, while not Krisha’s personal story, actually emerged from strands of reality.
Schults wrote the story right after Krisha’s niece, Nica, her sister Vicki’s oldest daughter, died of an overdose when she was 39.
“Nica managed to keep giving the impression she was OK. And she had five years of solid sobriety,” Krisha said, retelling the story of a holiday visit gone tragically wrong.
Krisha talks about the genetics of addiction and how her family on her mother’s side has a long genetic lineage. “We are genetically a family of addicts.”
Her mother, she said, who is now in her 90s with dementia, is an alcoholic.
“I didn’t know my mother even drank at all. I believe she was a late onset drinker,” Krisha said. “She was a hummingbird, a high-energy woman. And after she had a hysterectomy her boss brought her a bottle of brandy while recuperating and she never put the bottle down.”
Nonetheless, Krisha still sees her as the “best mother on the planet.”
In one poignant scene, the love the two women genuinely share is evident.
“That’s Trey’s favorite scene,” she said. And perhaps one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the film is when Krisha runs out of the dining room after an uncomfortable confrontation and her mother, who does not know they are making a movie, calls, “Krisha, come back. Krisha, come back.”
There is a dance that those who love addicts must dance, Krisha said. “Those who love those with addictions have to dance a dance an arm’s length away,” she said. “Yet supporting, bolstering, until enough time has passed and you can trust them again.”
And with her niece, Krisha said they were always so eager for time to pass, to trust again. She tells about a time her sister said, “But she is so good in the mornings.”
And so they tried to stretch the mornings, she said. “We would stay in our pajamas all morning.”
Nica’s addiction began when she was 14 and in a goth phase. She was backstage at a concert when a man about 30 years old put a needle in her arm, Krisha said. “Nica was brilliant, Mensa brilliant,” she said. “We were like, ‘What’s going on?’”
There were times over the years when Nica was clean, on methadone. But her heroin addiction eventually led her to do things she couldn’t control. And when her niece’s three children were 8, 6 and 2, the family intervened and took over their care. The oldest, Israel, lived with Krisha’s sister Vicki, who is also in the film. But because Nica lived in the same area, they were afraid.
“That was the time when parents were kidnapping children and she was pushing to take him back,” Krisha said. “We decided the safest place for him was an ocean away.”
And that’s how Krisha and Israel came to live together. She was living in Hawaii. She was 52 and he was 10. Israel lived with Krisha until he graduated from high school. “When he came I said, ‘I am going to be your aunt, and we’ll be roommates,’ and we wrote a contract every year,” she said. “When he first came he said, ‘This is the first time I ever had a room of my own.’”
Regarding her niece, Krisha said she finds closure in her belief that Nica is still around the family every day. Krisha talks about a circular energy in life.
“Nica’s at peace. She understands the damage she caused,” Krisha said. “We definitely have angels. Interestingly enough, our angels were our devils when they were alive ... we are proud of ourselves for putting our story out.”