Aspen Shortsfest premieres ‘Reunion’ |

Aspen Shortsfest premieres ‘Reunion’

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Contributed photo"Reunion," starring Hutchi Hancock and written and directed by Benjamin Krueger, shows Friday at Aspen Shortsfest.

ASPEN – Amy, the central character in “Reunion,” can’t pull it together. Drinking and partying have become such ingrained behaviors that even the prospect of reuniting with her toddler son isn’t enough to coax her to break old habits.

Put her in front of a camera, though, and watch Amy take on the role of mother and adult. Or at least give a serious effort.

In creating “Reunion,” writer-director Benjamin Kruger drew on a woman his lead actor, Hutchi Hancock, knew in college. This friend had taken in a foster child, and Hancock found herself wondering about the little girl’s mother, who had been jailed for drunk driving. “I had empathy for the mother. And thought, How could she love the kid so much but not be able to get it together?” the 31-year-old Hancock said one morning this week on the deck of the Mountain Chalet, home to Aspen Shortsfest’s Filmmakers Lounge.

Kruger was also inspired by his day job, of making commercial films. “That’s what I’m positioned in and where I make a living. I wanted to do something emotionally real. And something personal, character-driven, intimate,” Kruger, a Manhattan native and former history major at Brown, who has lived the last decade of his 33 years in Los Angeles, said.

But what seems to have most interested Kruger in making “Reunion” – which has its world premiere in Friday’s 8:30 p.m. screening program at Aspen Shortsfest – was to offer a perspective on reality TV. Amy’s story is told in cinema verite documentary style, but with the seams showing – the audience frequently sees and hears Amy interacting with the cameraman. Kruger had done some first-person writing for an Internet show, “lonelygirl15,” and he felt he had something to say about reality programming.

“I found what it wasn’t doing – reality TV, docudramas – was looking at how we consume entertainment,” he said. “Rarely does anyone look at the form.”

“Reunion,” apart from telling a squirm-inducing story of a self-deluding young woman – the effect is similar to that of “Young Adult,” the latest feature by frequent Aspen Shortsfest participant Jason Reitman – pulls back the curtain to examine what it really happening in reality programs.

“Anytime I look at a reality show, I think, Who are these people, really? Who are they as real people, and who do they become?” Krueger said. “That’s a large part of what this movie is about: What is the responsibility of the filmmaker to the subject? And to reality – reality shows don’t even try. Even shows like ‘Intervention’ – once you turn the cameras on, the subjects are altered from their actual state. Just turning on the camera makes them act differently.”

“Reunion” captures that dynamic between subject and camera – or, more accurately, the relationship between the subject and the on-camera subject. On the eve of Amy’s getting her son back, she attends what she describes, for the camera, as a “celebration” thrown by her friends. In fact, the get-together more closely resembles a frat party – with Amy indulging just like the other party guests. In one scene, she has an angry blow-up with an ex-boyfriend – till she remembers the camera is on her, and she puts on a more appropriate face.

“We start to learn that this woman may not be telling the truth,” Kruger said.

“Or, it’s the same truth she’s telling herself – it’s the truth she wants to believe,” Hancock added.

“The final product is never completely true,” Kruger said, adding that he used a cameraman, Josh Cole, who has worked extensively in reality TV. “It’s not reality. There’s always that performance of Amy – ‘Hi, I’m ready!’ – and the reality of Amy. We’re clearly showing these two sides of it: what she wants to be, and what she is when things come apart.

“In reality TV, I look for those moments that feel honest. I want the audience to be engaged in figuring out what’s really going on here.”

Peeking behind the scenes of “Reunion,” one finds that Kruger and Hancock are husband and wife; the film was made as they were planning their wedding.

“We needed a distraction from the wedding,” Hancock, a Kentucky native who studied theater and English at Ohio’s Kenyon College, said.

“Some people talk about planning a wedding as the test of a relationship,” Kruger said. “This” – making a film together – “is the real test of the relationship.”

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