To Sundance and back: an alumna#039;s story

by Beacon Staff • April 11, 2007

Sarah Hendler's first taste of the Sundance Film Festival came through interning, which gave her the chance to work as a coordinator at the festival in 2002 and then again in 2005. It was only a matter of time before Hendler would return to Sundance to promote and feature a film she had been a crucial part of.

The 29-year-old, who graduated from Emerson in 1999 with a degree in Visual and Media Arts, was at this year's Sundance to promote the independent film Low and Behold, which she produced.

Now, the film is coming to the Independent Film Festival of Boston on April 28 and 29.

Low and Behold is about an uninspired young man, Turner Stull (Barlow Jacobs), who takes a job with his uncle as an insurance-claims adjuster in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Overwhelmed by the greedy lowborn profession, Turner falls into a deeper depression in the storm-ravaged city. He agrees to help a local man, Nixon (Eddie Rouse), find his dog in exchange for insurance advice. Turner's new friendship and journey through the city prove to be just the life-changing experiences he needs.

The film was shot on location in New Orleans eight months after the storm hit, but the city remained in a devastated condition. "It is remarkable and sad to know you can still bring a camera to New Orleans now and film the same footage," Hendler said.

Along with the film's success have come comparisons. At Sundance this past January, members of the press were constantly evaluating and linking Low and Behold to Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. When asked about the two films being perceived as synonymous, Hendler was adamant about making a distinction and crediting each work properly.

"I think it's unfair of the press to compare or refer our film to Spike Lee's," she said in a phone interview with The Beacon. "Our film is a fictional, independent, 89-minute documented story of New Orleans, not a four-hour HBO documentary."

In addition to Sundance and Boston, the project has been officially selected for four other film festivals such as the Crossroads Film Festival in Jackson, Miss. and the Newport Beach Film Festival.

The crew of the movie made its own personal stand at Sundance by asking people to donate their bags of free swag to one of the seven charities, such as the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans, that can be accessed on the Low and Behold Web site (lowandbeholdmovie.com).

"The Web site is both an outlet for the film and for people to be able to act locally," Hendler said. "We wanted to be helpful to those who wanted to reach out."

Hendler grew up on Long Island but has been living in Los Angeles since graduating college. She said she was incredibly proud of Low and Behold since it was her first producing project that gave her a fulfilling responsibility. "The most challenging part is making everyone remember we are all part of a team. Everyone is making the film together: the director, the actors, grips and catering. Everyone helps," she said. "I keep learning that to be a good producer, you need to be a good listener."

Internships played a large part in Hendler's success, including one at New Line Cinema while attending Emerson's L.A. program. She still has some regrets about time spent at Emerson, though.

"Make lots of movies in school! That's something I wish I did," she said.

As for her future plans, Hendler wants to "work with new and innovative filmmakers, helping get their vision from the page to the screen." Two specific visionaries for her are Todd Rohal and Craig Zobel. Both men are friends of hers and currently have films that are circulating festivals right now.

Hendler also has other documentaries and narrative features in development to keep her busy in L.A. "You have to go where the money is to make an independent film, and LA is up and coming for that. I love New York. My heart is on the East coast, but L.A. has been very good to me."