Two friends, a camera and a trip to Iceland land Wilmington natives a spot at Cannes

PortCityDaily.com is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

Wilmington natives Madison Hatch, left, and Jared Knecht went to Iceland in 2014 to explore an idea for a short film that has, two years later, developed into a polished piece deemed worth to appear at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Courtesy photo.
Wilmington natives Madison Hatch, left, and Jared Knecht went to Iceland in 2014 to explore an idea for a short film that has, two years later, developed into a polished piece deemed worth to appear at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Courtesy photo.

Skumaskot is an Icelandic word that means “dark corner.”

It’s also the name of Wilmington native Jared Knecht’s short film about the deep abyss that follows loss, a film that itself arose from the murky void that often surrounds a 20-something’s search for identity.

But rather than avoid the shadowy depths, Knecht took a leap that has led him to the bright flashbulbs of a prestigious French Riviera film festival.

Knecht’s “Skumaskot,” which he made with longtime friend Madison Hatch, was recently selected to screen during Cannes. Before cast and crew hit the red carpet in mid-May, he’ll return to his former Seahawk home to show his movie to those who supported it the most.

“Skumaskot”- about a young man named Ruth (Madison Hatch) who takes to the frozen wilderness after his fiance’s sudden death to deal with his own emotional wasteland – will screen at UNCW’s King Hall at 8 p.m. Saturday (tonight). Admission is free, and a question-and-answer session with Knecht will follow.

Knecht said the local showing, sponsored by the university’s film studies department, is to bring a project conceived in New York City, filmed primarily in Iceland and polished in Colorado back home.

And, he added, it’s a way to say thanks to backers here in town, more than 100 of whom gave to the project’s initial IndieGogo campaign that raised $6,000.

“This really went from being a small film to escalating quite quickly,” Knecht said. “But I am super grateful, and it all kind of started with Wilmington residents giving $25 here and there.”

That was back in 2014, a year after Knecht had left UNCW for the Big Apple, where Hatch, also from the Wilmington area, was already giving his acting career a go.

The friends and NYC roommates shared a passion for the big screen, one that has driven Knecht since childhood.

“I’m just an obsessive,” Knecht said of the pull of filmmaking. “I’m obsessed with all that comes into the process of film…It’s an amazing collaboration experience, and I get to work with a bunch of other crazy obsessive people. I am obsessed with the process and the people who gravitate towards that. And I really enjoy the family aspect of it, too.”

That obsession, fueled locally by acting and production assistant gigs, was not being fed quite so well in his new surroundings, however. Hatch, too, was feeling the angst.

“We were just butting our heads wanting to create some momentum,” Knecht recalled.

Enter Iceland, a place that Knecht said was “alien” enough to mirror the waywardness of the loosely constructed main character and of themselves.

“It was an interesting season in our lives where we weren’t really feeling satisfied and had our own personal stuff going on, so we decided to do a little film that expressed those kinds of struggles…Really, it all started with us wanting to just get out in the wilderness and hike and grow together,” he said.

Looking back, Knecht calls that initial decision a “selfish” endeavor, perhaps a little impulsive and a bit backwards in terms of traditional filmmaking. Much of the story line, he said, was developed while the camera was already rolling during their 11-day trek through Iceland.

“But I think that’s the nature of these kinds of things. I just couldn’t sit still anymore; I had to do something. We took a massive risk,” he said, laughing.

A risk, he added, that included getting stranded and luckily rescued in a blizzard.

“I’m surprised Madison even has all his toes still,” Knecht joked.

But in that 11 days, a concept became clearer and with some changes here and there – thanks, in part, to a critique by Knecht’s grandmother – the pair had the structure in place for a solid piece of cinema.

What had started with one actor and a camera suddenly had the support of an entire crew.

“With passion projects first of all, they’re already more valuable than work projects but when you do one, you find that passionate people want to get on board,” Knecht said.

With the help of about 20 people up and down the east coast signing up to work behind the scenes, Knecht and Hatch finished shooting in Wilmington. The Port City provided the backdrop for flashbacks of Ruth’s fiance, Claire (Megan Scott).

The project has been in post-production for the past year, during which time a composer put together an original score.

“It’s crazy and encouraging,” Knecht said. “People are just hungry for work that is passionate.”

Motivated merely by creative drive, Knecht never imagined a movie he started making at the age of 20 in a locale as remote in Iceland would eventually make its way to the Port City en route to occupy a coveted spot in Cannes.

But, as the film suggests, sometimes the only way to find the light is by blindly taking those dark corners.

“I don’t think you ever do something like this expecting it to lead to something else. I certainly didn’t plan for it,” he said. “I don’t really take on a project thinking what door it may open. I took this as an exploration of the season we were in.”

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.