By Dawn Watson
Adam Baranello firmly believes that life is for living.
And contrary to the name of his first feature-length film, “Dead End,” it’s also the underlying theme of the movie. Starring Gail Baranello, Adrianna de Svastich and Kiirstin Marilyn, the story is about three talented young women whose lives are cut short. Too short, it quickly becomes apparent, as viewers learn at the very beginning of the film that the rising young stars have been murdered.
Who did it doesn’t matter, says Mr. Baranello. What does matter is the stories of the women—a dancer, a ballerina and a singer—and the lives they led before they were slain.
“It’s not a whodunit. It’s not that kind of movie,” he explained last week of the existential film, crafted in the surrealistic style of some of his favorite filmmakers—David Lynch, Jean Luc Godard and Jim Jarmusch. “We already glorify people that do horrible things. There’s enough of that in the world.”
Shot at various locations around the East End, including a home in Sag Harbor, the Bridge Sag Turnpike, a couple of businesses in Bridgehampton, and Tiana Beach in Hampton Bays, the 59-minute narrative film isn’t afraid to tackle the big questions. Or to give a few answers.
“Warning: This is an existential film about life,” the movie begins. “Everyone should pursue a life that is worth living. There is good and there is bad in the world. Hopefully we choose good. It matters.”
Mr. Baranello’s feelings are laid bare in the words spoken by the ballerina character Adrianna, who tells fellow dancer Gail in the movie, “most people don’t really live when they’re alive.” The filmmaker’s aim, in life and in art, is to do it all, he said. And that includes incorporating his passions wherever he can.
The film is the perfect canvas. From the musical soundtrack to the art on the walls, the videos playing on the television screen and even the fashion the characters wear, his artistic output bleeds into nearly every facet of the movie.
“In creating this film, I was striving to make something definably my own,” says Mr. Baranello. “I wanted to create a world that embraced the aesthetic and feel of all the elements of what I do as an artist … It’s AJB Land.”
In the predominantly black-and-white film (with notable exceptions when the three women are pursuing their passions, and the action is in full-blown color), he has also chosen to play to his actors’ strengths. The passions and talents of the characters in the movie closely resemble those of the people who play them.
Gail Baranello, who is also the director’s wife, plays a dancer in the film. Here on the East End, she teaches and performs at the Hampton Ballet Theatre School, and she and her husband are partnered in A&G Dance Company and AJB Productions.
Playing the part was a natural for her, she says, as it’s a version of herself. But, doing something so close to the heart is a little nerve-wracking now that the film is finished.
“It’s putting your own vulnerability out there,” she says. “That can be a bit scary.”
Adrianna de Svastich, who portrays a ballerina in the film, studied at The School of American Ballet in New York City and has performed with the New York City Ballet in Balanchine’s “Serenade.” She’s also appeared in the film “Black Swan.”
And Kiirstin Marilyn, who plays a singer in “Dead End,” is a singer and actor off-screen. She’s performed with the nationally touring Broadway revival of “Cabaret,” headed the band Ground To Machine and was named RAW: NYC’s Musician of the Year for 2011.
In addition to the three stars, several well-known locals also appear in the film, including young Hudson Galardi Troy, who opens the action dressed in a suit jacket and holding a cup of coffee.
“Normally, there’s beginning, a middle and an end,” he intones in his best Lynchian delivery. “But sometimes, there’s an end. And then a middle.”
Notable Peconic Public Broadcasting radio personality Bonnie Grice’s role as 88.3 FM broadcaster Susan Price serves two purposes: initially as narrator and later as prescient friend. In the first few moments of the film, her voice is the one that informs us of the deaths. Later, she foreshadows the murders by telling Gail of a dream she’s had about a bell.
“I’ve been a fan of Adam and his work from the first time we met,” says Ms. Grice, who is a good friend of both the Baranellos. “So when he asked me to play a role in his movie, I said ‘sure.’ Then he told me he thought of my character as the equivalent of the Oracle in ‘The Matrix.’ Well, how could I turn that down!”
Others who appear in the film include: Sara Jo Strickland, who gives a great one-liner in a pivotal scene shot at her HBTS space in Bridgehampton; Java Nation’s Andres Bedini, who serves up one of the endless cups of coffee that appear in the film; as well as Lua Li, Kaylie Wilson, and Holiday Bovio.
No matter how large or small, all of the characters and their actions in “Dead End” are meant to bring the viewer a little closer to the true message of the film: to dig a little deeper and to engage in something that speaks to your soul, says Mr. Baranello. After all, it’s far more impressive and interesting, in life as well as on film, when people choose to pursue good and strive to achieve greatness, instead of the opposite.
“That’s the kind of story I want to tell,” he says.
The East Hampton Library will screen “Dead End,” followed by Q/A with director Adam Baranello, on Sunday, July 26, at 2 p.m. Admission is free. To learn more, visit adambaranello.com or easthamptonlibrary.org.