|Directed by||Vincent Grashaw|
|Edited by||Eddie Mikasa|
Coldwater is a 2013 Independent film, directed by Vincent Grashaw, from a screenplay written by Grashaw and Mark Penney.
Coldwater details the abuse of juvenile inmates in a privatized American wilderness reform facility. The film is a fictional narrative that utilizes research from a myriad of documented cases, government reports, news stories and interviews, to help showcase and explore the realities of institutional abuse and juvenile delinquency, as well as some of the larger social ills underlying them. Coldwater is a story of consequences, one that is told and experienced almost wholly from the perspective of the teenage characters involved.
- P.J. Boudousqué as Brad Lunders
- James C. Burns as Colonel Frank Reichert
- Chris Petrovski as Gabriel Nunez
- Octavius J. Johnson as Jonas Williams
- Nicholas Bateman as Josh Warrick
- Stephanie Simbari as Erin Rose
- Clayton LaDue as Trevor
- Mackenzie Sidwell Graff as Casey
- Chauncey Leopardi as Eddie
Grashaw, a California native who grew up in the San Fernando Valley, but with "no connections to the industry whatsoever," wrote the first draft of the screenplay right out of high school in 1999. The idea came years prior when a friend of his was taken from his home in the middle of the night to a reform facility. When Grashaw saw him again after this experience, he had in Grashaw's words, "lost it."
The script at the time was called 'The Kids of Cristo' and became a top 30 finalist entry in the original HBO/Miramax Project Greenlight competition in 2000, a contest for struggling filmmakers launched by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon after their success with Good Will Hunting.
Penney, a Canadian expat in California pursuing screenwriting and acting, was also in the contest and began creatively collaborating with Grashaw. Grashaw, who grew unhappy with the development of his script, describing himself as "very limited when it comes to writing," brought Penney aboard in 2003 for a page 1 rewrite.
Now called 'Coldwater', the new script nearly became a movie in 2004 starring Ron Perlman and Lucas Black. When the film fell apart, Grashaw said "it was devastating." Penney and Grashaw would continue to rewrite and polish their screenplay for almost a decade before it was made.
In the interim, Grashaw produced the independent film Bellflower on a shoestring budget. The movie was a sensation when it premiered at Sundance in 2011. Released in theaters that summer, it was acclaimed by such critics as Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times. Soon after, Grashaw secured independent financing for Coldwater with a cast of unknown actors.
The film was first announced on June 4, 2012.
With no prior acting credits, 24 year-old P.J. Boudousqué was cast in the lead role of 17 year-old Brad Lunders, who is taken to the Coldwater reform facility at the beginning of the movie. A musician with a passion for films, Boudousqué had evacuated to Los Angeles from New Orleans as a teenager after Hurricane Katrina and chose to study acting. After auditioning in vain for years in Hollywood, he'd almost given up on acting and L.A. before getting the call for Coldwater-- a movie casting a mere block away from where he was living in Venice. Grashaw said that Boudousqué "came into the casting room like some drifter in a Sergio Leone film. No one knew who the hell he was but he had such a presence ... we cast him off two scenes he read in the first audition. No callbacks. Totally insane. But I think we just had a gut feeling he was the guy." After Coldwater, Boudousqué would win roles in a number of high-profile television shows, including Pretty Little Liars (2013), American Horror Story (2013), and Bones (2014).
James C. Burns, best known in video game circles for his performance capture and voicing of Sergeant Frank Woods in the Call of Duty game franchise, was cast as retired marine colonel Frank Reichert in charge of the Coldwater facility. Burns had a long resume playing tough military types, spending much time with cops and marines for his work, even traveling with the USO show to Afghanistan to visit the troops. Burns also credited his many years as a hockey coach working with at-risk youth for helping him to nuance and interpret his role. Burns said he came to the Coldwater audition exhausted from Call of Duty and was not able to memorize his sides, and so did improv with Grashaw instead. Burns felt he'd blown his chance, but the improv was enough to win him the role. Initially that role was more of a toxic character, but Burns was instrumental in reshaping the Colonel to be more sympathetic, ultimately becoming a mirror for the character played by Boudousqué. During shooting, Penney and Grashaw would rewrite entire scenes in collaboration with Burns, often on the same day they were shot.
Coldwater went before the cameras in August, September, and October 2012.
Some sequences were shot in Ventura, Ojai, Santa Paula, and Oxnard, California, but production primarily took place in late summer at Camp Bloomfield, a valley camp for the blind and disabled in the canyons of Malibu, California where the cast and crew lived together in newly vacant dormitories for three weeks with no cellphone or internet service. The cast and crew became close knit, often spending evenings together around the campfire after long days of exhaustive outdoor shooting. The joyous camaraderie on set stood in stark contrast to the harshness of the subject matter captured for the film.
Grashaw said of this experience: "For a filmmaker it was a luxury. You have all the actors at your disposal any time day or night. We had an editor on set editing rough cuts of everything we were shooting. I could go to our composers who were part of the process and we could literally start throwing on a temp score while on set, in the woods." And saying later, "The movie is dark and crazy, and it looks brutal, but we had the most fun making this! People [who worked on the film] still compare this movie to every other movie they're on, "Well it's not Coldwater!" Creatively, you could do anything."
The movie was primarily written and shot as a linear narrative, with the main character's pre-reform camp life of self-destruction comprising the first act of the film. The first cut screened for the cast and crew even maintained this structure, but Grashaw felt that the linear style lacked a strong enough element of discovery. Before its premiere at SXSW the decision was made to remove the first act and begin the film blind with Brad's abduction to the Coldwater facility. The removed footage was broken up and carefully inserted as flashbacks throughout the character's first year of incarceration, having the effect of triggered memories that reveal in increments the pain and turmoil the main character is carrying thru the story, as well as progressively revealing the tragic events that landed him at the facility in the first place. This significantly increased the depth and suspense of the film's first half, and in Grashaw's words, "brought the film to a whole other level for us."
After SXSW it screened internationally and domestically in several other festivals, including: Champs-Élysées Film Festival in Paris, France; Shanghai International Film Festival in China; Galway Film Fleadh in Ireland; Reykjavík International Film Festival in Iceland; Raindance Film Festival in London, England; Sitges Film Festival in Spain; Leiden International Film Festival in the Netherlands; American Film Festival in Poland; Athens Film Festival in Greece; Fresh Film Festival in the Czech Republic; Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia; and in the USA: Little Rock Film Festival in Arkansas; Cinema At The Edge Film Festival in Santa Monica; Indianapolis International Film Festival; Sidewalk Film Festival in Alabama; Boston Film Festival; Las Vegas International Film Festival; California Independent Film Festival.
The film was specially selected to screen at the 2013 Survivors of Institutional Abuse (SIA) Convention in Washington D.C.
Coldwater was released theatrically in the United States, France, and Toronto, Canada in the summer of 2014. It has also been released in the UK, Russia, Germany, Poland, Spain, Netherlands, Turkey, and South Korea.
Coldwater was released on DVD in the US in November 2014, and on Blu-ray in January 2016. The DVD included a making-of featurette. The movie was also released on DVD & special edition Blu-ray in Germany in August 2014, and France in January 2015. It was released on DVD in Spain in May 2017.
The film streamed on Netflix in the U.S. and Canada from April 1, 2015, to April 1, 2017.
Coldwater has received positive reviews from critics from dozens of outlets since its World Premiere at SXSW. (Paste magazine, Flixist, and Complex all listed the movie in their breakdowns of Best Films at SXSW). Praise was given for the film's emotional impact, uncompromising critique of the abuse of power, and stark portrayal of juvenile delinquency. Critics also commended the movie's inventive use of dramatic, thriller, prison-film and even horror genre elements in combination with its topical themes and sociological exposé, as well as its gritty realism in direction and photography, non-linear storytelling, haunting musical score, and strong performances from a cast of unknown actors.
Larry411's Independent Film Analysis gave a 5/5 star review, saying Coldwater "truly defines what can be achieved in cinema when the filmmakers are calling the shots," describing the film's take on the juvenile prison genre "as fresh as it is devastatingly genuine." It went further to say that "what makes this real life horror film so gripping is that it's based on actual incidents which have been well documented across the country. Director/co-writer/producer Vincent Grashaw, with co-writer Mark Penney, have taken these true stories and crafted a powerful work that transcends the genre and leaves the viewer emotionally drained."
Playmaker magazine's A+ score the night of Coldwater's SXSW premiere called it "a compelling and emotional ride, easily worthy of being named the best movie at the festival." Concurring also that the film "is grounded in reality, which is why the emotions felt by the characters and the audience are so real. This kind of abuse happens all the time in reform facilities in the US."
Complex scored Coldwater an 8/10, saying "Grashaw's intense debut generates the highest level of raw suspense." Finding it "accomplished and dealing out powerful damage," with the "storytelling maturity, gripping pace, and grade-A performances (from a group of unknown actors) that one would find in a veteran's third or fourth movie."
The Critical Critics' 5/5 review said the film delivered "with a sincerity few others achieve."
The Film Stage's B+ review predicted it "would render any parent who ever thought of voluntarily sending their kid away to one of these establishments moot."
BT News Network called the film "a harrowingly haunting motion picture," that "incites thought and debate – two things that too few films are daring enough to do."
Even the reviewer for the politically conservative World News Mag wrote: "Think Cool Hand Luke meets Pulp Fiction, with a touch of The Shawshank Redemption thrown in. If these comparisons sound dismissive, I don't mean them to be. I consider all three of these movies to be excellent, and Coldwater deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence."
Coldwater received mostly positive reviews from critics in France when it was released theatrically in that country in July 2014. Meilleurs Films would rank Coldwater number 4 on their list of top 20 films of the year, and SensCritique would include Coldwater in its top 10 films of the year.
Grashaw said that while American audiences seemed desensitized to revelations of juvenile institutional abuses in the US, European audiences like those in France were in shocked disbelief at the injustices on display in the film (and that facilities like Coldwater could exist at all), with several passionate inquiries after screenings.
The week after its theatrical release in France, cinema audiences on AlloCiné rated Coldwater the number 1 film to see in the country. The film currently holds 4 stars out of 5 from audience votes on the site.
Mainstream US criticism
After almost universal praise from independent critics, Coldwater drew a backlash from mainstream US critics when it was released in American theaters in August 2014. Though reviews were mixed (with more positive than negative), several top critics expressed palpable resentment in their write-ups, disregarding any cinematic critique of institutional abuse in the U.S. and condemning the film for its violence, teenage anti-hero theme, and dark, tragic tone. The film has a 44/100 Metacritic rating, as well as a 58% score on Rotten Tomatoes with 'no consensus yet'.
The New York Times' Top critic Jeannette Catsoulis nearly got apoplexy, finding Coldwater "Punishing" and "Proceeding in a tone of unrelieved misery ... full of scenes of unremitting brutality and sadism, as the thuggish guards set about transforming their charges into model citizens." She went on to say that this "brutal tale of juvenile lockup" with its "cramped hellhole of Darwinian violence" is "too unvaryingly grim to draw us in, unfolding with hardly a moment of warmth or human connection." The film was, "like Brad's detention, simply to be endured."
Variety's Top critic Peter Debruge mocked Coldwater as an "indignant expose" with "shower scenes and sweaty young delinquents aplenty." Focusing on the main juvenile character whom he thoroughly disliked, Debruge dismissed the movie with tabloid criticism: "Coldwater is the story of what happens to a baby-faced hunk after his mom sends him to a juvenile rehabilitation facility. Never mind that he sells drugs, starts fights at parties and is directly responsible for the death of an innocent friend. As played by heartthrob-in-the-making P.J. Boudousqué, the character is evidently just too cute to deserve rehabilitation ... would we be so forgiving if he didn't look like a former Mouseketeer?"
Slant Magazine's Elise Nakhnikian had the most sullen review, frowning on the film's choice to root its perspective with the adolescent inmates: "There's a certain kind of fantasy, appealing to teenagers, that involves imagining yourself in a situation harsh enough to justify the alienation and rage flooding your soul. The attraction is the perverse satisfaction of enduring nightmarish scenarios, no matter how high the deck is stacked against you." Indignant herself, she awarded the film only one star for what she called "its melodramatic mixture of grandiosity and powerlessness to its view of the world as a torture-chamber crucible for an angry young man who has to grow up too fast."
The Hollywood Reporter's Top critic John DeFore's positive review of Coldwater said: "Affecting drama exposes a brutal real world phenomenon." DeFore highlighted the mix of genre elements with social relevance, writing that Grashaw "and co-screenwriter Mark Penney introduce incidents that tie the story to prison films of the past, then gradually exploit the novelty of this setting, heightening the mood of isolation with glimpses of outside authorities who should be able to see what's going on here and intervene, but fail to in sometimes wrenching ways. The script's dramatic finale is shockingly violent but just within the bounds of the credible, an eruption of justified rage that speaks for the real-world youths (dozens since 1980, according to closing titles) who have died in juvenile rehab centers the government refuses to monitor."
Coldwater garnered several award nominations during its worldwide festival run, many for Best Feature Film.
It won Best Film, Best Director (Vincent Grashaw), and Best Actor (P.J. Boudousqué) at the Las Vegas International Film Festival  and went on to win the Audience Awards for Best Feature at the Fresh Film Festival in Prague, Czech Republic, as well as at the Cinema at the Edge Film Festival in Santa Monica, California.
Coldwater's award nominations include Best Film Exposé and Best Film on Human Rights of 2014 by the Political Film Society, a nonprofit corporation formed to recognize the ability of films to raise consciousness of political concerns throughout the world.
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