A new film from first-time director Alexander Janko '83 LS and executive producer Cressey Belden Janko '87 will begin to hit movie theaters from coast to coast when it opens in New York on Friday, September 8.
Alexander wrote, directed, and scored Year by the Sea, based on the New York Times best-selling memoir by Joan Anderson. The story recounts the transformative period in Anderson's life when, as an empty nester in a stagnant marriage, she decided to retreat to the family cottage in Cape Cod rather than follow her husband across the country to his new job. The film stars Karen Allen, Yannick Bisson, S. Epatha Merkerson, Michael Christopher, and Celia Imrie.
"We are thrilled that our little film has found its way into a nationwide release," Cressey said on behalf of the filmmaking team. "The message, that it's never too late to reclaim your life, is one that we are honored to share with the world. From the feedback we have received thus far, we believe in the universality of our story, and we're delighted our audiences do, too!"
Alexander started his career in Hollywood as a composer and orchestrator, most notably writing the score for My Big Fat Greek Wedding. He was looking for his first project as an independent filmmaker when a mildewy, jacketless copy of Anderson's memoir appeared on his kitchen counter. Cressey, his wife at the time, had picked it up at the local transfer station.
"I opened it up and three hours later I was convinced that I needed to make a movie, not for myself necessarily, but for all women, all the daughters of those women, all the granddaughters of those women," he said.
Alexander—the brother of Ibi Janko Murphy '83 and Julia Janko Wong '82, the son of a busy ob-gyn father, and the father of a daughter—said it was important to him that the movie be as truthful as possible to the female experience. Part of that involved doing something radical in an industry that's coming under increasing fire for its ageism: casting older actresses as they are, not as Hollywood says they should be.
During the casting process, he said, he heard many stories of actresses being told they wouldn't get any work unless they had plastic surgery. So he made a point to hire only actresses who had resisted that directive. "I didn't mean that to say we were punishing the ones who had," he explained. "I felt it was important to make a movie where I was representing truth, organic truth, on the screen. . . . For a 60-, 70-, 80-year-old woman to go to a movie and see herself represented equally and fairly is very different. That's what I'm excited about: to try to shift the perspective a little bit."
Filmed on location in Cape Cod, Year by the Sea took seven years to come to fruition, financed in part by a robust Kickstarter campaign. After racking up more than a dozen awards on the festival circuit, it enjoyed a limited run in Florida in February 2017. Now, it's rolling out across the country over the next couple of months, reaching the Osio in Monterey on September 29. Find out when it comes to your town.
Read our full profile of Alexander in the Spring 2017 issue of the Santa Catalina Bulletin.
Photo: Karen Allen (Joan) dances on Nauset Light Beach with Celia Imrie (Erikson) in Year by the Sea. Credit: Year by the Sea