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“Bitter Root” to screen Saturday

This Saturday Catherine Casem ’15 is showcasing a rough cut of her film Bitter Root, a project funded by the E. Clyde Lutton ’66 Memorial Fund for Performing Arts.

The film’s plot revolves around Lola, a young unstable girl, her brother Mark and boyfriend Leonard. As Lola and Mark struggle with the hard truths of Lola’s past, the plot is driven by the dilemma of confronting a difficult memory or remaining ignorant and maintaining an erroneous memory. Catherine, a Comparative Literature major, says she found her inspiration in Hegel’s master-slave dialectic and Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time.”


The film features local artists Carlo Campbell, Emily Dabney, and Kevin Austra. Casem sat down with me to talk about the film’s concept and inspiration. You can also read her post for the Hurford Center’s Decentered blog.

Casem applied to the Lutton Fund in October, submitting an initial outline of the film’s storyline. “As time passed, the story changed dramatically. I had the same ideas but very different characters,” she said. The final copy of the screenplay was finished in February, after twelve separate drafts.

The writing process, at least for this project, was an isolated one, she said.

“I didn’t show it to anyone,” Casem said, “until the final draft. It’s hard to include people in that process because until I have what I would call a final product, my vision isn’t something that’s communicable to anyone else.”

By Spring Break, Casem held auditions for actors and started shooting. Casem described shooting as the most collaborative and pivotal moment. “When I select the actors,” she said, “it changes the entire vision I have for a character. And you’re also involving a cinematographer, a sound designer, who all have an interpretation that closely fit my vision but ‘closely-fit’ isn’t what I had in mind.”

When asked about guidance or direction in undertaking her film project, Casem replied, “I would say that Hegel and Proust helped me. I think that the touch points are negotiable as long as the emotional message that’s grounded in the screenplay is translated.”

On the process of translating her screenplay into film, Casem said, “You have to know what you are trying to communicate emotionally with the audience.” It’s not just her direction and ideas that were important, she realized, “When the actors are saying the lines, they don’t read off the page verbatim and if they did that, it wouldn’t be the most natural for them but those minor deviations are natural.”

While the majority of the film’s collaborative effort was apart from the Haverford community, Casem commended the Haverford art community, “It is full of support in so many ways,” she said, “It’s been a personal project in a lot of ways but the support from my friends has been invaluable – just the willingness to help and the encouragement.”

While Casem has been editing scenes in the ITC in preparation for Saturday’s screening, she admits that she’s nervous.

“When you turn in a paper, you’re using big words, it’s very distanced – but this is coming from a vulnerable place, the most vulnerable. These are my emotions,” Casem said. “[But] I’m excited to have people around who I can show my project to.”

Bitter Root will premiere in Sharpless Auditorium, this Saturday April 20, at 7 pm.

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