For Kentucky-native Kimberly Levin, the transition from biochemist to filmmaker was a fluid one.
"For me, there's a very close relationship between the creative impulse that sets a scientist out on a journey to discover how things work, or a connection that we haven't made, and what ignites an artist on the creative journey to tell a story," says Levin, whose new film, Runoff, opens at the Kentucky Theater Friday.
The director's debut feature is set on actual working farms and represents rural America. Its main character, Betty (Joanne Kelly), is the matriarch of a local farm.
She and her husband, Frank (Neal Huff), provide goods and services to local farmers — the film begins with Betty tending to a bee colony while her husband administers pharmaceuticals to the pigs of a local farmer and potential client of Freeman's Farming Supply.
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The Freemans are being pushed out by a corporate competitor, Gigas, which is offering farms a deal most of them can't pass up. Not only will Gigas provide the supplies for the livestock, they'll buy the the animals and act as a distributor as well.
Tensions boil over when Gigas begins encroaching on the Freeman's property and their family's health and financial well-being come into question.
Both an award-winning playwright and a New York University film school graduate, Levin spent her early filmmaking career filming short movies and documentaries in her home state of Kentucky.
So when she got the opportunity to make her first full-length feature, she knew exactly where to take it.
"For me it was a total no-brainer to shoot (in Kentucky)," says Levin,a Louisville native. "There's a real hospitality on the grounds from the people of Kentucky who willingly open their homes and their businesses to your production in such a warm and receptive way that you don't find in many other places."
Runoff was shot mostly in Oldham and Henry counties, using a Shaker-style farmhouse near La Grange, and its barns, as the main location.
"I can't tell you how excited I am to be bringing the film home to the Bluegrass state," she says.
The goal was to create something that had space for the audience to introduce their own experiences to the narrative, Levin says, where everything isn't wrapped in a bow at the end.
"The script attracted a lot of attention early on from really big players," says Kurt Pitzer, a producer on the film and Levin's husband. "But they all wanted to change the script into something more cookie-cutter, and we really wanted to stick to our guns and make something unusual and thought-provoking."
Levin was worried the script would be taken out of her hands. So the husband and wife duo decided to produce it on their own.
Pitzer says shooting the film independently presented many advantages, like a relaxed shoot. But it was still a daunting task to do the project alone.
"We felt like we were putting the pieces together right," he says. "But it's nerve-racking showing it to the public for the first time. You're putting your boat in the water thinking it's seaworthy. But you just never know."
Levin said her focus right now as an independent filmmaker is making sure the film reaches as many people as it possibly can. But she is working on another script that she hopes she can pay more attention to once the press campaign for Runoff concludes.
When asked if she plans on shooting in Kentucky again, Levin was emphatic in her response.
"Absolutely," she says. "Exclamation point."