Science On Screen: OU Prof’s Film Featured at Athena Cinema

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Technology plays a huge role in our daily lives. Whether it’s texting, running groceries through the checkout line or simply channel surfing while sitting on the couch, we’re all tech-heads to some extent.

Our dependence–or infatuation–with technology will be examined this Thursday during a free screening of Small, Beautifully Moving Parts, the next film in the Athena Cinema’s “Science on Screen” series.

In the film, Sarah Sparks is a technophile who’s married to machines–she would much rather pull apart a computer than have a conversation over coffee. So, when her pregnancy test comes back positive, she’s not exactly jumping for joy.

“She’s terrified,” said Annie Howell, co-director of the film and assistant professor of Screenwriting and Production at the Ohio University School of Film. “It’s a taboo subject we explore with Sparks, although we do so lightheartedly. You don’t see a lot of female characters in movies freaking out about being pregnant. They’re supposed to be elated. But that’s not how it really is all the time.”

The baby on the way prompts Sarah (played by Anna Margaret Hollyman) to hit the open road in an attempt to rekindle things with her own mother, who’s living off the grid somewhere in the Arizona desert. Sarah’s beloved technology fails, comically depicted by the relentless (and all too familiar) “recalculating” of her GPS.

“The film is really about learning to face the unknown,” said Howell. “It was irresistible to put our protagonist through a little bit of a crisis with her old, reliable gadgets, which she used to be able to tweak and fix. I think in all contemporary relationships, technology plays a role in one way or another. Technology isn’t going away, and we didn’t want to come down with a good or bad judgment. The theme here is more a question of how to behave in this new landscape.”

Speaking of landscapes, the film sports some stunning shots of Sarah’s journey down the California coast, all the way to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. It’s a “road movie made for the big screen,” according to Howell.

Along with co-director Lisa Robinson, Howell literally wrote the script with the help of Google Maps, and the end result was surprisingly low budget. That’s because they already had relationships with the actors and actresses, some of whom are now getting love from the TV networks.

Case in point: Andre Holland, who plays Spark’s steadfast partner Leon, has since scored a role on the NBC comedy 1600 Penn; Leon’s sister Towie (Susan Kelechi Watson) has appeared on FX’s Louie; and Sarah’s mom (Mary Beth Peil) is a regular on the CBS drama The Good Wife.

Although she’s received three awards from various film fests (River Run International Film Festival, Fargo Film Festival and the Hamptons International Film Festival), don’t think for a moment that Howell is resting on her laurels. There are other projects in the works–one set right here in Athens.

At this point everything is still under wraps, but Howell let on that her next film deals with a middle-aged protagonist coming to grips with her work as an artist.

In the meantime, you can check out Thursday’s screening of Small, Beautifully Moving Parts at 7 p.m., featuring comments by Howell and a talk by Molly Wright Steenson, assistant professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

If, for some reason, you can’t make it, Howell noted that the film is currently available through a now-ubiquitous form of technology: Netflix streaming.