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Heartland Film Festival: ‘Nathan’s Kingdom’ is a journey that’s worth the hardships

Before the screening of Nathan’s Kingdom, director and  screenwriter Olicer Muñoz spoke about how the film was about a journey,  much like the filmmaking process itself. Over the course of ten years of  production, five of those years for filming, and numerous hardships,  Muñoz clearly put boatloads of passion into the film. I kept his story  in mind during the screening, thinking about all the time, the  hardships, and the triumphs that must have occurred during production.  This journey on its own is worth telling, and that’s not even to include  the journey he created for the characters within Nathan’s Kingdom. All of it comes together and, despite some rough patches within the movie, results in a very heartwarming experience.

Image from Heartland

Nathan’s Kingdom initially stood out to me because the titular  character Nathan is on the autism spectrum. This made me skeptical,  because many production companies are afraid to tackle mental health  related issues in a realistic manner. Muñoz purposefully casted the role  of Nathan to be played by an actor (Jacob Lince) who himself is on the  autism spectrum. This makes the character feel completely real in a way  that I’ve never seen done before in a film. Nathan and his relationships  with everyone else, particularly his sister Laura (played by Madison  Ford) seem to be plucked straight from life experiences. Watching how  Nathan moved through the world I saw many shades of my little brother  who is on the autism spectrum. Nathan is absolutely the star of the  show, and his struggles cut more deeply than I could have imagined  walking into the film.

The narrative itself is, like Muñoz described, one of a journey. But  it’s not just about Nathan’s journey to find his kingdom. It’s a story  of siblings learning to connect despite the barriers that lie between  them. Laura clearly is unable to properly handle Nathan on her own, but  doesn’t believe anyone else can handle it. Her family ties are more  powerful than her desire to escape and abandon Nathan. This can mostly  be accredited to a great performance by Madison Ford, perfectly  capturing the confliction and resentment the character has built up  inside. The character of Laura could have been one that, if played  improperly, would just make the audience hate her. Yet, whenever she  loses her temper with Nathan, I felt more inclined to sympathize with  her. There’s clearly much more going on than what we are shown, although  maybe some of that could be self-projection onto the film. When it all  finally resolves it creates a sense of overwhelming joy that makes the  heartache worth it. The audience can find their own kingdom within Laura  and Nathan’s journey.

Another fantastic addition to the film that I never expected was the  storybook sequences included within the film. These animated sequences  are inspired by the drawings within Nathan’s notebook, and both of the  ones included are beautifully animated. The long sequence while Laura  and Nathan exploring the dark mine, in particular, is a wonderful  expression of child-like imagination. The audience gets a look into  Nathan’s mind; how he sees the world and his own story. It’s hard to not  get absorbed into that world during these sequences, with all of the  wonderfully creepy, hand-drawn imagery. These were much more preferable  to the couple short CGI sequences which, while they weren’t bad, looked  nowhere near as good as the animation. It would have been neat to see  more of it, but then the charm might have outworn its welcome.

Image from Heartland

Despite all of these great things, there are still a couple of gripes  with the film that make me reluctant to declare it perfection. The  cinematography is the biggest culprit here. When the film is taking in  the scenery, playing and interacting within Nathan’s fantasy world, the  camerawork is fantastic. The main problem lies in the scenes where  Nathan and Laura are interacting outside of a make-pretend world. It may  just be a pet peeve of mine, and I get the artistic value, but I can’t  stand by using shaky-cam within a film. The effect is that it makes a  film more gritty and realistic, and that’s fine. It also induces motion  sickness and generally just makes the film harder to watch. The few  shots that used a drone as well are noticeably cheap looking, with the  drone camera being significantly lower in quality. Those two things  served as my main problems with the film, but it’s something that many  people can ignore to get lost in the world this movie creates.

The final thing to ask is: does this film succeed as a “feel-good”  movie? The answer is easily a yes. The best parts of the film were when  Laura and Nathan are playing together, laughing, joking, enjoying each  others company. It was so incredibly heartwarming to watch these  sequences where both let go of their problems and just play. Laura in  the film describes it as Nathan’s coping mechanism, much like her drug  habit (which admittedly doesn’t really play a huge part in the film,  despite it being shown so frequently). I thought back to home, when I  was a kid trying to play with my little brother despite the  communication barrier. I would play games with him, I helped him learn  how to use a computer, and so many other memories that this movie made  me remember. It takes a lot to make me cry during a film, but seeing  these sequences turned on the waterworks. This film can do a lot of good  to teach people how to communicate with those with developmental disorders, and  that alone makes it worthy of its spot at Heartland.

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Featured image: Heartland

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