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When an Indiana-born New York University student decided to make a film based on western Pennsylvania, she knew there was only one place to go – back home.
Natalia Kaniasty, an Indiana University of Pennsylvania alumna, is back in town to film “Home Range” for her “pre-thesis short film,” an NYU Tisch School of the Arts required project.
“[‘Home Range’] is the story of Bobby Novak, a soldier who has returned home to western Pennsylvania after serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan,” Kaniasty said.
“Bobby finds himself struggling to adjust to civilian life and re-assimilate into his community,” she said. “His difficult emotional journey reaches a crossroads around Thanksgiving time, at the start of deer hunting season. Bobby must decide whether going out into the wilderness to reconnect with an old tradition and old friends will push him back or set him free.”
Kaniasty said the film is an homage to Michael Cimino’s 1978 film “The Deer Hunter” starring Robert De Niro.
That film, set and filmed in western Pennsylvania, tells the story of three young factory workers who enlist in the Army to fight in Vietnam.
“As a story teller, a psychology graduate, but also a cousin, neighbor and friend of young men and women returning from war,” Kaniasty said, “their issues have always been deeply important to me and thus are at the heart of my film. Of course, I was inspired by ‘The Deer Hunter,’ but even more so I was inspired by them and by my own community here in Indiana, Pennsylvania.”
Kaniasty, currently a master of fine arts candidate in filmmaking at NYU’s Tisch School, traded the glamorous New York set for a more rural one.
“I remember when one of my teachers heard my plans,” Kaniasty said. “He said to me ‘Why would you ever leave New York to shoot a film? This is where the actors are.’ He also told me that New Jersey could stand in for western Pennsylvania. Obviously, he’s never been to Indiana County.”
Keeping with her mission to capture the full western Pennsylvania effect, Kaniasty decided to use, what she calls, “local voices.”
“My main character of Bobby is specifically written for Brett Mack, a graduate of IUP’s theater and dance department,” Kaniasty said.
Kaniasty also said that the supporting roles in the film are played by Indiana residents, local artist J.R. Sherburne and recently retired high school drama teacher Gretchen Barbor; IUP graduates, Charles Beikert and Jason Gamble; a current theater student, Lydia Gibson; and even psychology professor Dr. Lisa Newell makes an appearance with her four-year-old son in a nonspeaking part.
Kaniasty’s first public screening of the film will be in New York at the beginning of May.
Kaniasty said that post-production of the film should be complete entirely by midsummer 2014, and at that time she will begin submitting “Home Range” to film festivals in both the U.S and Europe.
“Of course, it’s a dream come true for a student filmmaker to be accepted into festivals,” Kaniasty said, “but my main goal in making this film is to touch audiences with a message of support for the veterans of our small communities across the country. I want people to come away feeling hope when they see my film.”
The film is being financed through personal donations and crowdfunding, according to Kaniasty.
She is using Indiegogo – an international fundraising site – to fund production, and she was provided some camera and lighting equipment from NYU.
Kaniasty is a 2008 IUP Robert E. Cook Honors College graduate with bachelor’s degrees in both theater and psychology.
After graduation, she lived and worked in Pittsburgh where she got involved with Pittsburgh Filmmakers.
From 2010 through 2012 Kaniasty was a program assistant in the education department at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
While at the Kennedy Center, Kaniasty decided to apply to film school. After receiving offers, she chose to attend the New York University Tisch School with a focus in writing and directing.