As a champion behind women and diversity in film, the Bentonville Film Festival, founded by actress Geena Davis and Trevor Drinkwater, crowned the film Jack of the Red Hearts with its first “Jury Award.” The independent film was written, directed, shot and produced by women—something the festival and the New York Film Academy have been advocates for.
As such, NYFA Battery Place hosted a screening of the film, followed by a Q&A with director Janet Grillo, as well as actors Scott Cohen and Taylor Richardson. The discussion was moderated by NYFA Acting for Film Chair, Glynis Rigsby and Short-term Filmmaking Chair, Jonathan Whittaker.
In the film, up and coming star AnnaSophia Robb portrays “Jack,” a tough teenage runaway on the lam from her parole officer. The conniving street kid brazenly impersonates a trained caregiver and forms a unique bond with an 11 year-old autistic girl named Glory, brilliantly played by newcomer and guest Taylor Richardson, who played Annie on Broadway. The child’s desperate mother Kay (Famke Janssen) bonds with the young impostor as a surrogate daughter she can actually converse with. When the deception is exposed and the cops descend, loving father Mark, played by our guest Scott Cohen, struggles to hold his family together as the pieces of this puzzle are reshuffled into a new, satisfying whole.
“As the mother of a child on the Autism Spectrum, I well know the challenge to ‘change the things I can,’ while struggling to ‘accept what I cannot.,'” says Grillo. “The passionate fight for your child’s fullest life can deplete your own life into a hollow shell. When we meet Kay, the mother in Jack of the Red Hearts, she’s at the precipice of losing all she is, as she fights for her child to become all she can. Meanwhile, Jack, who has known nothing but loss, is fighting to hold onto the only thing she has left—her sister. What they don’t know, but soon discover, is how much they need—and help one another. Their unpredictable bond is at the core of this film. As they come to identify with each other, we identify with them. And grow our hearts a bit larger.”
Director and guest speaker, Janet Grillo came onto the project after being pursued for the director role by producer Lucy Muckerjee-Brown due to her film Fly Away, which also focuses on autism. Grillo recalls reading and loving the script on June 23rd and two years later, to the day, she was filming what she read.
When it comes to working on set, Grillo says, “If you’re very prepared, you have the freedom to be flexible.”
“It really helped that the movie was filmed chronologically,” added Richardson. “I was able to understand the progression of my character.”
As for the father in the film—played by actor Scott Cohen, who can be seen in Showtime’s new series Billions—he too found the story to be a bit personal, having dealt with some of the challenges of autism in his own life. “I feel blessed to be able to use my own history in bringing the character to life, and also learning things that I didn’t know.”
As our moderators and students would agree, there are numerous stand-out performances in this award-winning indie film. If you’re looking for a movie of substance, without the need for violence or explosions, be sure to check out Jack of the Red Hearts in theaters on February 26th!