Christopher Holmes’ debut feature film Lost Colony follows the dramatic and sometimes humorous life of a teenager living in a depressed town on the Outer Banks.(Courtesy Photo)
by Daniel Wirtheim
Loren’s face is tight with consternation as he considers both his girlfriend’s recent abortion and a questionable story of his father’s death by shark. The 18-year-old living in a depressed fishing town on North Carolina’s Outer Banks is the centerpiece of Christopher Holmes’ debut feature film Lost Colony, a exploration of isolation and the body as physical property based in a small coastal town in North Carolina.
Holmes, who is also the program coordinator of Winston-Salem’s RiverRun International Film Festival, was working towards an MFA in video production at UNCG when he was assigned to write a fictional story about a personal object. He turned in an assignment on a shark-tooth necklace and within the seven years since graduation, his story became the script for Lost Colony. The film screened to a full theater at A/perture Cinema on Nov. 22 as part of a larger tour across the United States.
Lost Colony is a sort of coming-of-age story. Loren, played by UNC-Wilmington graduate Joshua Brady, is a lost boy looking for purpose under the watchful eye of his overbearing mother, played by the Asheville-based indie-pop rocker Stephanie Morgan. Lies and familial problems leave a puppy-eyed Loren wandering between temporary jobs and occasionally to the house of alcoholic fisherman and family friend Randy, played by North Carolina native Phillip Ward, who provides most of the film’s comic relief. Despite its bleak tone, Lost Colony has a surprising amount of humor.
There were more than a few moments when the Winston-Salem audience was laughing — at Randy’s asinine country-folk humor, Loren’s goof-off boss who is more interested in the boy’s mother than teaching employees and also often times Loren’s naivety.
Lost Colony screens at UNCG’s Brown Building Theatre on Dec. 3. Visit lostcolonyfilm.squarespace.com for more information.
Brady’s performance as Loren, and his big emotive eyes in particular, is one of Lost Colony’s strong points. He’s panicky, compulsive but also tender. Loren’s girlfriend Ramona, a stony-faced and elegant teenager played by Sam Buchanan, serves ice cream while dreaming of college, until her pregnancy snatches that dream. She forms a slightly mismatched counterpart to Loren. Their relationship is finished after one confusing sequence in which Ramona nearly drowns in a swimming pool. Loren, who has a deep-seated fear of water due to his father’s deadly shark attack, can only sit by the edge of the pool as he experiences a panic attack.
Not everything in Lost Colony is clear cut. It’s an art-house drama steeped in awkward-boyish humor with the ever-present notion that these lost teens are living among the ghosts of the famous lost Roanoke colony.
The coastal town where Loren roams — which is never named but which Holmes filmed along the Carolina coast from Kill Devil Hills to Wanchese on Roanoke Island — is a derelict beach community with sleazy beach-town advertising and colorful residents who recite bizarre facts they’ve “seen on the TV.” It’s a spot-on replication of the quintessential North Carolina small town, complete with homely wardrobe and native dialects. It’s a backdrop for which Holmes boldly weaves an intellectual search for identity in the life of one lost boy. And the airy, plaintive soundtrack provided by the band Sevrul only augments Lost Colony’s awkward and often pleasing position as a serious art film with the quirk of having rural-town authenticity, warts and all.
Lost Colony is an expertly paced meditation on a lost teenager that packs a surprising amount of thought into 90 minutes. In Holmes’ film everything is lost: the aborted fetus, the teenager’s ambitions and a sense of family. But what’s gained is strong attempt at cultural understanding in the new South and a film that is 100-percent North Carolina.
Holmes, who’s lived in North Carolina since 2002 and currently lives and works in the Triad, insisted on shooting the entire film during 17 days on the Outer Banks. It might not have the sheen of a big-studio film, but for Holmes, like Loren in one liberating moment, it is a courageous plunge into the water.