From Sundance to the Hop: Hanover High Grad Julian Higgins Returns With GOD’S COUNTRY
Friday, October 7
This is how it all began.
Twelve years ago, during a blizzard on a New Hampshire evening, Julian Higgins folded himself into a rocking chair in a lakeside cabin and began to read “Winter Light,” a short story by James Lee Burke. He recalls: “ . . . I remember feeling hungry for it as I read it – it struck a deep chord immediately. It’s exactly the sort of material I love: a simple, compelling story framework containing complex character work. By the time I finished reading it the first time, I knew it was something I wanted to make into a film.” Many years later, in his own writer’s and director’s hands, the story developed into Higgins’ first feature-length movie, premiering at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Now Higgins is bringing the film back home to Hanover, NH.
On Friday, October 7 at 7:00 p.m., the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College will be screening GOD’S COUNTRY, a psychological thriller in which a professor (Thandiwe Newton) engages in a battle of wills with two trespassing hunters in a remote Montana college town. Julian Higgins will be in attendance and will engage in a conversation after the screening.
Directed and co-written by Higgins (with Shaye Ogbonna), the film is what he calls a “radical adaptation” of Burke’s work that “ . . . still very much holds the essence of the story.” The original story’s protagonist is an older white male. GOD’S COUNTRY recasts the character as a middle-aged Black woman surrounded by her all-white, predominantly male colleagues, a move that brings a different lens to what has been described otherwise as a “classic Western.” According to Higgins, James Lee Burke approves of the reworked version.
Asked about how it feels to bring his film to the Hopkins Center, Julian spoke of his experiences and memories:
Bringing GOD'S COUNTRY to the Hopkins Center is especially meaningful for me since some of my most formative experiences as a young artist took place here. I grew up in Hanover and I spent a lot of time at the Hop as a kid. I’ve seen so many films, concerts, and plays there over the years, from outstanding Dartmouth theater productions to Philip Glass in concert to all three LORD OF THE RINGS movies played back-to-back in Spaulding. Spaulding is such an epic space – I honestly never imagined something of mine would screen there. But GOD'S COUNTRY is very much designed to be seen on the big screen with big sound, so it really is the ultimate venue for the film. I’m so honored and proud to be able to show my first feature to my hometown audience in this space.
Julian was a student in the Dresden school system, graduated from Hanover High School, and is grateful for the role that arts played in his education. He is particularly appreciative of his teachers:
“Teachers like Bill Hammond, Kate Schaefer, Janet Rae, Suzanne Sylvester, Margaret Taylor, and so many others made me feel so supported in my developing interests from the very beginning . . . I was able to take two Dartmouth classes for high school credit: screenwriting with Bill Phillips and acting with James Rice. Two hugely influential experiences and teachers that really fueled my creative passion. It’s just impossible to overstate how important teachers in the Dresden school district and at Dartmouth have been in my life – and their influence is certainly part of the reason why I now teach as well.”
For more information and to purchase tickets, click here to go to the Hopkins Center website. Rotten Tomatoes shows praise from many corners for Newton’s performance, a collection of reviews, and a 2 minute trailer.
(Some of the quotes of my email exchange with Julian Higgins have been edited for length. Photo, top, courtesy of the Hopkins Center. Headshot via publicist David Mortimer.)
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And in case you are wondering . . . Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.
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