Where the inspiration began: Special one-night OBX screening of Breakwater to be held at Pioneer

Published 12:12 pm Saturday, October 28, 2023

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Before it officially opens in the box office, the movie Breakwater will hold a one-night screening Sunday, October 29 on the Outer Banks, where the inspiration all began. The independent film was written and directed by Asheville native James Rowe, and stars Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding), Darren Mann (1923) and Mena Suvari (American Beauty).

The mystery thriller follows Dovey (Mann), a naïve inmate in a rural Virginia prison, on the brink of his release. Dovey makes a promise to fellow inmate and mentor Ray Childress (Mulroney) to find his estranged daughter, whom Ray believes is living down on the Outer Banks.

Dovey’s journey takes him across state lines – violating his parole agreement – but what he discovers about her past sets him on a chilling and dangerous path.

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Though most of the filming was done in Wilmington, the cast and crew spent four days shooting at Historic Corolla Park and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in the fall of 2021.

Rowe was intrigued by the area years before when he made a stop at the lighthouse. “I started out as a photographer,” he explained in a phone interview with The Coastland Times.

Later in his writing career, when he was looking through his photos of the 1875 red brick lighthouse and the surrounding area, he was struck with the near perfection of the area to shoot a film there. “There are amazing buildings, it looks like a small community, it’s accessible, there are places to park the trucks … I loved the idea of doing something here.”

And so, Rowe said, he started writing for that location.

“I never thought I’d actually be able to shoot there. I thought it would have to be somewhere up in Canada,” he admitted.

Once filming was set for Wilmington, Rowe realized that it was only a five-hour drive to get up to Corolla, the place where his creativity first started to spark.

“Hey guys, it’s worth it,” he told his producers at Loose Cannon Pictures. “Let’s do this.”

Though it would be a challenging area to shoot as well as costly, after seeing the area, the producers, too, were convinced to move part of production up to the northern Outer Banks.

Though an Outer Banks town isn’t specifically named, the movie is filmed in such a way that the lighthouse is central.

“We tried to make the Outer Banks seem a bit more isolated than it really is. We wanted to convey a more remote tip of the banks,” Rowe explained.

“Everybody who sees the film asks about the place. ‘Where did you shoot this?’ The place is really a character in the film. That was always the intention, but I think we pulled that off,” he added.

Rowe remembers visiting the Outer Banks as a kid, when it was a little quieter and wilder.

“My dad got a cabin out there for us in Nags Head, right off the ocean. I have really fond memories of that – how mysterious it was to me.”

He carries that sense of mystery to Breakwater.

“It’s a surprising film – it’s a classic in some ways, it’s a throwback in some ways. Mainstream [thrillers] are pretty dark. I didn’t want to make a horror film; I wanted to make a thriller in the vein of something I grew up watching that were more about characters who are in over their heads. It ends up costing them something. Hitchcock did this quite often, in Vertigo, for instance.

“[Breakwater] feels like a drama at first. We realize there’s a lot more at stake for everybody than we first knew. Then the twists and turns start to come more quickly, and it becomes more of a thriller with great action sequences. There’s a visual cinematic lushness to the film, with action pieces set against a great background.”

Breakwater has garnered success in film festivals across the country, starting at Cinequest in San Jose, California, and traveling to Boston, Massachusetts, where the film won Audience Favorite and Dermot Mulroney won Best Actor.

It screened at a film festival in Savannah, Georgia last week and in Charlottesville, Virginia last Friday.

Because of Charlottesville’s proximity to the Outer Banks, Rowe decided to see if it would be possible to do a screening in the location where the movie takes place.

“We’re right there in Charlottesville,” he thought to himself. “Let’s take it back to the place that inspired me to write it.”

He teamed up with Manteo resident John Wilson of Outer Banks Conservationists (which owns Currituck Beach Lighthouse), to make plans to show Breakwater at the Pioneer Theater.

“We’re really excited about bringing it back to the area where it takes place, and also about the Pioneer with all of its history here,” Rowe said.

The screening gives an opportunity for all of the people who worked on the movie during the Corolla and Wilmington filming to see it before it hits theaters, but, said Pioneer Theater owner Michael Basnight, it also gives our community a chance to see our beautiful area on an iconic screen.

“It’s historic,” Basnight said of the recently renovated 1918 theater. “Andy Griffith premiered a couple of movies here. Peanut Butter Falcon premiered here. [The writer and producers] were aware of this and reached out, and, after John’s introduction, said it would be really cool for us, if it works for you, to do our final screening at the Pioneer.”

“I’m excited,” Basnight added. “I think it’ll be something really cool for the community.”

He said his plan is to pack the house for the screening, starting with a reception with appetizers at 5 p.m., followed by the movie showing at 6 p.m. Afterward, some members of the cast and crew will be available for a Q&A session (though, because of the Screen Actors Guild strike, Rowe said many of the lead actors won’t be attending). The after party is scheduled a little after 8 p.m. Music will be performed by Sam on Sax and local pianist Fleck.

Tickets ($25 per person) can be purchased online or at the Pioneer Theater box office, located at 109 Budleigh Street in downtown Manteo.