“Yosemite,” a new film by Island summer visitor Gabrielle Demeestère, plays at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Monday, August 8. The film tracks the lives of three 10-year-old boys living in Palo Alto, Calif.
“Yosemite” is divided into three chapters, each focusing on one of the boys, who are friends. A concern about encroaching mountain lions sets an ominous tone. Instead of speeding up the pace, so fashionable in today’s tiresomely action-packed films, Ms. Demeestère takes time to quietly build up the details of the three boys’ lives. “I was trying to make it observational only,” Ms. Demeestère told The Times in an interview.
The 37-year-old filmmaker lives in Brooklyn and is the daughter of René and Jeanette Demeestère of Chilmark and Paris. Although Ms. Demeestère grew up in Paris, she spent summers in California with her grandmother, and went to summer camp in Yosemite at about the same age as the boys in the film. “Having been an outsider gives you an interesting perspective on American culture,” she said. She also said the film was more about the universal experiences of childhood than the experiences of boys alone.
“Yosemite” is based on two short stories by James Franco, who grew up in Palo Alto in the Eighties. Another film, “Palo Alto” (2013), directed by Gia Coppola, is also based on his short stories. In “Yosemite,” Mr. Franco plays Phil, the father of Chris (Everett Meckler) and Alex (Troy Tinnirello). His character draws on Mr. Franco’s own father. Phil and his sons are spending a weekend hiking and awkwardly bonding in Yosemite National Park. Phil is celebrating his first year of sobriety, and Chris and Alex often squabble in typical sibling rivalry. At one point, Phil asks his sons if they know where babies come from, and sexuality is a recurring motif as the boys move tentatively from childhood to adolescence. They occasionally use expletives with sexual overtones like “dickless” and “faggot.” The filmmaker builds tension quietly instead of with melodrama, and in this chapter, the three get lost as darkness approaches, and Chris makes a disturbing discovery.
The next chapter concerns Joe (Alec Mansky), whose parents have split up after a family tragedy. Joe finds solace in “Knight Crimson” comic books, and takes up a friendship with 20something Henry (Henry Hopper). The two act out the comic book storylines, and an underlying tension exists regarding Henry’s intentions. In the third chapter, Ted (Calum John) bullies Joe, grabbing at his crotch in school and instigating fights. But at home Ted dotes on his orange tabby Charlie. The development of Silicon Valley technology plays a role as Ted’s insomniac dad spends time on the dial-up Internet and the boys play on gaming consoles. After the three boys find a pistol, they decide to hunt for the mountain lion lurking near the community. The danger of a gun in the hands of the young men soon becomes clear.
Ms. Demeestère met Mr. Franco in film school at N.Y.U. “He’d seen my work in film school, and thought I would be a good fit,” she said. Working with three 10-year-old boys scared her at first, but she said, “They can be very natural actors. I enjoyed working with them.” Currently she is writing a TV pilot and developing a script from another book adaptation.
For showtimes and more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.