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Finding Their Way Home

  • by Carolyn Arends Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 11 Oct
Finding Their Way Home

Lawrence David Foldes directed his first feature film (Malibu High) at the tender age of 18, making him the youngest professional filmmaker in Hollywood history. But Victoria Paige Meyerink makes Foldes look like a late bloomer—she began her acting career at the age of two and starred opposite legends like Danny Kaye, Rock Hudson and Elvis Presley before reaching grade school.?

Foldes and Meyerink have been partners—he's still a director, she's now a producer—in movies and in marriage since 1979. Both call their newest film, the critically acclaimed family drama Finding Home, their crowning achievement. The couple gave five years and their life savings to the daunting project, constructing a temporary movie studio on the rugged coast of Deer Island, Maine in order to capture the spectacular scenery central to the story.

But the technical challenges of making the movie pale in comparison to the personal ones they faced. Just before shooting began, Meyerink was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Unwilling to accept the devastating side effects of the prescribed surgery, she created and underwent a controversial new radiation treatment. Foldes and Meyerink both claim that their personal odyssey—including the possibility that Meyerink could die—uniquely prepared them to explore the themes at the heart of Finding Home.

The film is the story of a young woman (Lisa Brenner) who returns to her deceased grandmother's New England inn, where she confronts the repressed memories that haunt her dreams. The movie includes veterans like Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), Jason Miller (The Exorcist) and a particularly strong performance by Genevieve Bujold (Oscar nominee for Anne of The Thousand Days). Newer faces like Brenner, Misha Collins and Johnny Messner give Finding Home a youthful energy and credibility.

Funded in part by the non-profit organization Christian Life Resources, Finding Home takes on issues like sexual responsibility, the value of family, and the legacy of choices good and bad. Foldes doesn't want his film branded a "Christian movie," but the experience of making it has cultivated his own faith. We talked to him via telephone from the couple's home in LA.

You've said that making movies is really the only thing you've ever wanted to do. Where'd that come from?Lawrence David Foldes: I think it goes back to my relationship with my grandfather, who was from Hungary. In elementary school, my grandfather would meet me after school every day, and we'd take the bus down to Hollywood Boulevard and see at least two, maybe three movies every day before we went home. I would see anything and everything with him—from family stuff all the way to R-rated movies. Because he was hard of hearing, the two of us sat in the very back of the theatre, and I would translate the movie into Hungarian for him. When the movies were lousy I would paint the story all together so it was a whole different story. He never knew the difference and I actually think that I probably even made the movies more interesting for him. I think that's where my whole love of storytelling began.? I saw some great footage of you and Victoria as very young filmmakers, talking about the need to make commercial movies. At one point Victoria says, "The films are stepping stones to eventually being able to take that risk on the one film we want to do." Is Finding Home that film?Foldes: Definitely. In the beginning [of my career] my feeling was that the first movie that you make should be commercial, because if it isn't it's probably going to be the last movie that you make. [But] about seven years ago, the two of us starting feeling somewhat creatively unfulfilled with what we were doing. You get to a certain point where you realize, What am I really doing? What's the legacy I'm going to leave behind? Something was kind of missing.? It was fun, especially action movies—blowing things up, car chases and things. There's a certain thrill in doing that. [But] the movies were entertaining people for a couple of hours and then people would go out and that would be it. It was just something that was bothering us. That was when Victoria was diagnosed with a brain tumor and we wound up dropping everything for nearly a year, researching all the different treatment options available.While we were going through all this stuff, that's when I started thinking about what are the priorities in life? I started to come to this decision that I don't care how many more movies I make in this lifetime, as long as each of them says something and touches people in a positive way. I don't want my legacy to be a bunch of action movies on the Blockbuster shelf, with a 2- or 3-inch obituary in Variety when it's all done. The ability to touch people with this medium is huge, and so we both wanted to start making a different kind of show. And that's literally when Finding Home found us, when we were going through this procedure with Victoria.Was Victoria already stabilized at that point, or were you still in the middle of it?Foldes: We found one doctor who was one of the originators of the procedure called Gamma Knife Radiation, and he was the only one willing to try combining these two methods of radiation that we had come up with. Right after she had the procedure, we went up to Maine, where we had been teaching every summer since 1991. We went up there for her to spend some time to recover, and we did another class. One of the students [Steven Zambo] came up to us after the class with a story idea. We were too busy with other stuff and Victoria's issues, so we didn't get around to reading it. This guy was really persistent; he kept calling and asking if we had read the story and what we thought of it. Finally, about six months later, Victoria got around to reading it and she was really touched by it. She gave it to me, and I was moved by it. We called him up and said, "We think this is a project that you should pursue." He said, "That's great, because I would like the two of you to make it, and the company I work for has part of the financing." He couldn't say anything better than that, bringing an independent filmmaker a project with part of the money. It was a story that dealt with issues like redemption and reconciliation, and loss. It was an intelligent movie that was exactly the type of thing that we had been searching for, for a long time.The student worked for a company called Christian Life Resources. They had sent him to take the class because they wanted to make a film that dealt with sexual responsibility and the importance of family. They wanted to make this film themselves, so he came to the class to learn about making a feature film. I think after the class, he realized it was way more than they could attempt to do.What happened next?Foldes: When we all got together, I said, "We would love to do the story, but I don't want to make a Billy Graham movie. I don't want to make some sort of a 'preachy' story that hits you over the head with Bible quotes, because I think you're going to wind up preaching to the choir. If you want to reach a wide audience with this message, it needs to be much more subtle and entertaining. It's going to work much better and much stronger if it's subtle than if it's thought of as a 'Christian movie.'"Unfortunately, most Christian films that have Christian backing are sub-par, and they're automatically looked at in a negative way—not only by the secular world, but also by the religious world. I didn't want that to happen with this film, and I think we've been successful because I haven't heard a single critic or anyone say anything about any sort of overt religious undertones or anything like that.The film is a story about three generations of women, and how each of the decisions they make affects the other generations—and the devastating effect that keeping secrets can have on future generations. I wanted to tell that story, and show a slice of life in New England. Ultimately I wanted to show how someone can get to a point in her life where there is that split second in which she can make a decision that's going to lead her one way that she may regret—or she can take another way.? You've said that on more than one occasion while making Finding Home, you joked that somebody up there must be looking out for you, and that in retrospect you've come to believe that. Would you call that "faith"?Foldes: I really do believe that we are all guided in some way. We can choose to take that guidance or we can choose to throw it away. I don't believe that it's so obvious to everybody. There are too many coincidences in one's life to believe that they're strictly coincidences, and I think you have to look at it as guidance from beyond our capabilities.? I'll tell you something that I haven't really talked about anywhere. My family was Jewish, and during World War II in Hungary, most of the family was killed—most of them were sent to Auschwitz. My mother survived in the underground in Budapest during the war because she dyed her hair blonde and she wore a big wooden cross whenever she would come out to get food.My father was captured and put into a work camp. All the workers had to wear different colored stars, the yellow star if you were Jewish, and a different colored star if one parent was Jewish and one was not. One day my father's star came off, and at the end of that day, the soldiers came and put all the prisoners into a pure Jewish group, half-Jewish and so forth. My father stepped into the pure Jewish group, and a half-Jewish person he had befriended noticed that my father's star was gone. At the last second he pulled my father out of the Jewish group and put him into the half-Jewish group. The people in the pure Jewish group were all killed, but my father survived.? He eventually escaped back to Budapest. My grandfather was trying to get papers to get the family out of the country, to get false papers to be able to get out. He went from church to church asking the priests and ministers if they would give him Christian papers, and none of them did—except for one Lutheran minister, who gave these papers to my father and said, "If you survive, there's only one thing that I ask—that you convert to Christianity."They did survive the war, and then communism came in. During the communist period and the uprising in 1956, my parents and grandfather escaped and came out to the U.S. Everybody in my family changed to Christianity at the time because my father said, "I made a promise, and I'm going to keep my word." He's kept it to this day. So for this student to come to us with this story, with not only Christian backing, but Lutheran backing—there's more than just coincidence here and I really believe that.That's an amazing facet to your family story.Foldes: You asked me about faith and how everything comes together; I think that's an important part of it and where I'm coming from. I also think that if we hadn't gone through the whole thing with Victoria, I don't think I could have made this film, since it's a story that deals with those emotional issues about losing people and family. Unless you've had things like that happen to you, it would be very, very difficult to convey that to an audience.I really believe that there are tremendously positive things that can happen from the most adverse things that happen to you. You can either choose to look at those things from the "woe is me" kind of way, or look at those things and see what good can come out of them. Eventually I think we can see that there's something positive out of everything like that that happens. I think that whole experience with the two of us made me mature both as a filmmaker and as a human being. This movie wouldn't have happened if we hadn't gone through what we went through, and the movie wouldn't have happened if we hadn't taught that class. We wouldn't have developed a love for Maine if we hadn't accepted the first invitation to come and teach a class back in 1991. So when I talk about things coming full circle, everything happening for a reason, it's because of all these things we've gone through.

Finding Home is playing in limited theaters. For more information, visit the official website.

© Carolyn Arends 2005, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.