When Niagara Falls comes up in conversation, the view from the Canadian side usually gets the tourist-story glory, but filmmakers Jenna Ricker and Greg Stuhr switched things up in their film noir mystery homage “The American Side.”
At 5:30 p.m. Sunday and 8:40 p.m. Monday at Chautauqua Cinema, Ricker and Stuhr will host a screening and Q-and-A session. (The film will also play at 8:40 p.m. Saturday and 3:15 p.m. Monday sans Ricker and Stuhr.)
“The audience Q-and-A’s are really a special treat for us as filmmakers, because you don’t often get to engage with your audience directly after they’ve experienced your work. You know, you answer questions or you talk about the process or somebody picks out something that you either forgot about along the way, or you didn’t even think about,” Ricker said. “That’s a really lovely kind of magical moment.”
The story follows Charlie Paczynski, a private investigator in Buffalo, New York, who finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy involving the lost designs of Nikola Tesla. The electrical engineer and inventor extraordinaire established the first hydroelectric power plant with George Westinghouse in Niagara Falls in the late-19th century, and a monument in Tesla’s honor stands on Goat Island.
In addition to co-writing the film with Ricker, Stuhr plays the role of Paczynski alongside Camilla Belle, Alicja Bachleda, Robert Forster and Matthew Broderick.
The germ of the idea formed during a night out in New York City. Ricker and Stuhr knew each other from the city’s theater circles and were out with a group of friends when the conversation turned to film. They discovered a shared appreciation for the film noir conspiracy genre and began to forge their creative partnership, but the conception of “The American Side” originated with Stuhr.
Born in Lackawanna, New York, and raised in the Southtowns of Buffalo, Stuhr had dreamed of shooting a film in his hometown. He said Ricker fell in love with the city while they were in production.
“Even these places that I’ve seen a million times and that I love and I think are gorgeous and cinematic, she made 10 times more cinematic,” he said. “Putting it in the context of the story, I think, makes the movie especially a treat for people from Western New York.”
Both writers said the movie is like a rollercoaster in both pace and complexity, and that the end of the film should have the same giddy exhilaration as an amusement park thrill-seeker when she disembarks from a coaster-car after a whirly-twirly ride. They also both feel the same way about screening the film at the cinema on the grounds.
“It’s fun to be coming to a place like Chautauqua that celebrates arts and sciences and creativity the way it does,” Ricker said. “I’m looking forward to the Q-and-A’s with this particular crowd because I think there will be some extra knowledge around this story that could be a lot of fun to talk about after we watch the film.”