Cathedral Park is an ambitious feature-length debut from writer/director/star Vincent Caldoni that showcases a clear vision almost completely realized. Independently made and produced, it's a faux documentary that spans two generations and two countries to find a link between father and daughter and the two different films they each star in.
Vai (Tara Walker) is a 17-year-old girl being raised in Portland, Oregon, by her widower father, Basti (Caldoni). Basti is an immigrant from the fictional island nation of Otisia, a kind of old-world culture that comes off as a sort of mix of the Italian countryside and Middle Eastern values. Vai doesn't know her country of origin, nor does she really know her mother, and she and her friend Katie (Cassidy Slaughter-Mason) are making a movie to try to understand both. Things change direction, however, when Vai finds a box of mementos that her father had previously hidden from her. These include reels of film shot by a German film crew that feature a young Basti and his bride, Miora (Yona Prost), as their guide.
Watching the old movies, shot in a blown-out visual style to separate them from the DV "reality" of the more modern movie the girls are making, Vai begins to see a portrait of her parents as a young and happy couple. At the same time, her other research reveals that while the German film was being shot, Otisia was tumbling into a civil war between its two major ethnic groups. That conflict is soon mirrored at home in the schism between father and daughter, particularly when it becomes clear that there is more to the story that Basti is hiding.
To further layer Cathedral Park, Caldoni doubles-up on the romance, with the story of the two generations having parallel loveliness in addition to the dual documentaries. Vai begins dating the charming Oli (Joey Boyd), in whom Basti sees his own reckless youth. Oli is involved in local Otisian gangs, and his life starts heading toward the same violence that resulted in Basti and Miora fleeing their home for America.
You have to admire the guts of a young filmmaker who creates his own country, culture, and language. The fact that he is able to make the Oregon countryside look like a faraway land is impressive enough, but Caldoni also displays a clear vision of what his world is about, of who the people are and why they do what they do. Sometimes the mannerisms can be overdone, particularly in his own performance, but Cathedral Park has a gung-ho spirit that pulls it through.
Like most indie films of this scale, Cathedral Park's biggest problem is one of budget. If they had more, they could do more, and the trick is to never look like you are just "making do." Unfortunately, the cracks start to show a little later in the film. The scenes at the Otisian camp start to feel drawn out and a little stagy, and the Oli denouement is too hastily dispensed with. There are several points where the integrity of the concept is strained. Both documentary crews capture events on film that are convenient for the story but not entirely believable. The German crew in particular follows Basti and Miora beyond the point of reason, managing to catch the ravages of war in artfully framed shots, always in the right place at the right time. How did they maintain power for their cameras when the country had no electricity left?
In the end, it's the characters that make Cathedral Park worth sitting through, and the universality of the story. Both romantic plotlines have the right strains of classic tales of star-crossed lovers, and the contemporary scenes in particular come off like a DV version of one of the better CW teen dramas. For relatively new actors and filmmakers, Cathedral Park shows a lot of promise, certainly enough to keep an eye on what they all do next.
Cathedral Park is currently on the festival circuit, with scheduled dates at the Flyway Film Festival in Pepin, Wisconsin on October 11 and the Astoria International Film Festival in Astoria, Oregon, on October 25, 2008. Check the Blueprint Films website for future dates.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.