Locally shot 'The Discoverers' see Philly in a new light

Posted: June 27, 2014

MERIWETHER LEWIS, half of the famed exploring duo Lewis and Clark, started his expedition in Philadelphia, at the American Philosophical Society, learning medicine, botany, astronomy and other skills that would help him on his journey mapping the country. Their expedition ended in Oregon, where the weary travelers set up camp before heading home.

The same could be said for director Justin Schwarz and his debut film, "The Discoverers." Lewis (Griffin Dunne) drags his two estranged children with him to aid his grieving father, who is part of a re-enactment troupe. They focus on Lewis and Clark's journey.

Schwarz and his team shot "gri," which had its local premiere at the Philadelphia Film Festival (where it won honorable mention for the Pinkenson Award for Best Local Feature) and opens at the Ritz Five today, in and around the area. While the film is set largely in Idaho, where Dunne's character grew up, the beginning of the film was shot in downtown Philadelphia and then moved to Ridley State Park, Tyler State Park and Fort Washington State Park in order to capture a different sense of location.

"Pennsylvania is extremely diverse in geography," Schwarz said. In the city scenes, he wanted a complete lack of greenery, that would then be replaced by the lushness of the natural world. "You leave the city and you're stripped of your urban self. You see yourself in a new light."

That's the overarching theme of "The Discoverers": having the ability to view life under different circumstances, just as re-enactors themselves are given the opportunity to do. They may be mailmen, pharmacists or truck drivers in their day-to-day lives. But put on a costume and they get to be a whole different person.

Schwarz said he doesn't secretly have re-enactment garb in his closet, but researched the niche culture so he could get it right.

"Any subculture that has a lot of rules lends itself to comedy but I didn't want to caricature these people. They will go outside and go hunting, using period-specific hunting instruments. They'll eat food and prepare food that's historically accurate. It's these people going out into the world and trying to see it in a new way," Schwarz said.

So, with a story in mind, Schwarz and Laura Kleger, his wife and the film's producer, were moving from Los Angeles to New York, and decided to scout out shooting locations on the way so they could bring the re-enactors to life.

"We were looking for states with rich production incentives, so we drove the Lewis and Clark route in reverse and we landed in Tyler State Park, the last place we landed before going back to New York," Schwarz said. "I had been in so many woods that I knew what I needed. But it was this great feeling when we finally arrived and I realized everything I need is right here."

On Twitter: @mollyeichel

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