GLENS FALLS — Take three.
The third Adirondack Film Festival opened to a packed house at the Charles R. Wood Theater on Thursday night as 300 VIP pass holders screened a film about the haunting realities and gruesome fate of the radium dial painters of the 1920s.
Filmed in Warren County two years ago, “Radium Girls” weaves rich historic details and archival footage into the inspirational tale of young sisters Josephine and Bessie Cavallo. Chronicling their tragic journey as young dial painters and their fight for justice against a fictional corporate giant, American Radium Corp., the film tackles the culpability of the corporation.
The film’s creators bring to light the historically accurate accounting of radium-poisoned United States Radium Corp. workers through this drawn-from-real-life story.
“This is a story that needed to be told,” said Ginny Mohler, co-writer and co-director of the film. “I wanted people to see the film and think, ‘That could be me and my sisters.’ This was the perfect place to make this movie in many ways: The historical buildings … it’s so beautiful to see; and the culture. The people were open to helping us and willing to be a part of the process.”
The Adirondack Film Festival started three years ago, with organizers uncertain how the community would respond. They were taken by surprise when first-year ticket sales far surpassed projections. Each year since, the festival has thrived, with ticket sales beating expectations.
The Adirondack Film Festival promises just about something for everyone. And its Saturday schedule is packed with documentaries, shorts, featu…
“We had to add an additional screening of ‘Radium Girls’ on Sunday. We’ve sold around 700 passes, about a 50 percent increase from last year,” said Chad Rabinovitz, producing artistic director of the festival, on Friday afternoon. “This year, we added the Park Theater and now we have two screens at The Queensbury Hotel. We are housing more than 100 filmmakers — directors, writers, actors — here (for the festival) and the quality of the films is incredible.”
After 2,400 hours of screening submitted films, Jessica Levandoski, the festival’s director of programming, curated this years’ selection of 100 films. The quality of films submitted was excellent, she said, and if more venues had been available, she could have scheduled 200.
Watch the trailers for the headliner and feature films for this year's Adirondack Film Festival.
“Our films are carefully curated, I’ve selected films specifically for this audience, after observing what they react to and loved the most in previous years. They will find more of what they want this year, while simultaneously finding that we pushed boundaries in other areas,” she said. “It’s like making the perfect mix tape, one of my favorite things to do for people.”
“Radium Girls,” written by Mohler and Brittany Shaw and directed by Mohler and Lydia Dean Pilcher, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April and has been on the festival circuit since.
An independent film, “Radium Girls” was partially funded by a series of foundation grants, including what Pilcher calls their cornerstone grant, $100,000 from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Mohler wrote the dial painters’ story after an unexpected discovery.
“I was a few years out of film school, working at a documentary film company, researching a special for the Discovery channel about the Manhattan Project, when I stumbled across an obscure reference to ’the tragic dial painters of WWI,’” she said. “I was curious and so I Googled that phrase, not knowing it would change the direction of my life.”
It was also by chance that the filming of “Radium Girls” came to Warren County. When Emmy-award winning filmmaker Dean Pilcher was invited to a Meryl Streep-screenwriting retreat at Wiawaka Center for Women in Lake George, she knew this was the place.
“We had been developing the script,” Dean Pilcher said, during filming in 2016. “And when I saw all the period houses on the lake at Wiawaka, I knew.”
Several crew members lived at Wiawaka during the shoot, and a cottage in Lake George was transformed into the Cavallo sisters’ home. The second-floor of the Union Square Building off Broad Street in Glens Falls was painted and transformed into the American Radium Corp.
“We were able to paint and transform it into our dial-painting factory,” Mohler said.
The project was six years in the making, Mohler said.
“To be able to render the story to audiences feels really special,” she said.
They’ve taken the movie to three festivals since its Tribeca World Premiere and it’s scheduled for an early 2019 release.
“People don’t know the story and they are blown away that this could happen. They are moved by the sisters and by the sub-plot of the race riot of 1921,” Mohler said.
As for filming in the area? Mohler said if she does another 1920s film, she will definitely come back.
“The people were supportive, excited and made shooting there special,” she said. “
The festival runs through Sunday and tickets are available at the Wood Theater on Glen Street in Glens Falls. The VIP pass is $75 and day passes are $30.