LAWRENCE – "The Sublime and Beautiful," a feature film shot in and around the University of Kansas and drawing from the talents of the university’s students and alumni, will screen at a series of film festivals throughout the country this spring.
A window into the raw emotions of grief, the independent film premiered January at Slamdance, held in Park City, Utah. Written and directed by Blake Robbins, the film follows the path of grief for university professor David Conrad (played by Robbins) and his wife, Kelly, after their three children die in a drunken-driving accident in a small Midwestern town.
Laura Kirk, a KU lecturer and alumna, portrays the grieving mother who is struggling with the loss of her children under an already strained marriage.
The intense drama is a departure for Kirk, who has worked with lighter material in the past. She co-wrote and starred in the critically acclaimed comedy "Lisa Picard is Famous." Filmmaker Magazine critic compared Kirk’s performance as Kelly to some of the most explosive scenes in "A Woman Under the Influence."
“This was a super dark place to have to live for a couple of weeks,” Kirk said. “That style of raw, in-the-moment, no-holds-barred acting is a pretty exciting way to work, and you don’t get to work that way very often.”
Robbins, whose aunt was paralyzed because of a drunken-driving accident, wanted to create a realistic portrait of complicated characters grieving.
“I was looking for a less-Hollywood version of this story, one that was a lot more raw and a little grittier,” Robbins said.
Known for his work in "The Office," "Oz" and "Sons of Anarchy," Robbins has family from southeast Kansas and attended Independence Community Junior College, Independence, Kan. He connected to Kevin Willmott, a KU associate professor of film and media studies, at the junior college’s annual William Inge Theatre Festival. Robbins worked on several of Willmott’s works, including "Jayhawkers," "The Battle of Bunker Hill" and "The Only Good Indian." The latter two films also featured Kirk.
Setting the film in Lawrence was a natural fit because of the script’s needs for a Midwestern university town as well as Robbins’ KU connections. In 2012, the film was shot in Lawrence over 12 days with a limited budget.
The film featured KU students and alumni as producers, actors and production assistants. In all, more than 40 cast and crew members with KU ties participated in making the film.
"The Sublime and Beautiful" was one of 10 narrative films chosen out of 5,000 submissions to be shown at Slamdance. From the reviews of that showing, the film has been selected for film festivals throughout the country.
Kirk said audiences are drawn to the film’s honest look at grief and have created a dialogue around it.
“It’s a rough film, it’s a brutal film, but it definitely speaks to people on a certain level,” Kirk said.
The movie has received distribution and will be available on digital platforms, including iTunes and Netflix this spring. It will play at the Atlanta Film Festival, Cleveland International Film Festival, Charleston International Film Festival, Kansas City FilmFest and Milan International Film Festival.