A Hollywood vibe comes to New Canaan on Wednesday, October 19, when a major motion picture opens at the Bow Tie Cinema. Stars will be in attendance, as well as a legendary author and her screenwriter and co-producer sons.
New Canaan Library will roll out the red carpet for the Fairfield County premiere of The Great Gilly Hopkins, a movie based on the children’s book by best-selling author Katherine Paterson. Its cast includes Academy Award winners Kathy Bates, Glenn Close and Octavia Spencer, as well as Julia Stiles and, in the title role, Sophie Nelisse. A co-star is Fairfield County’s 15-year-old Clare Foley, who will attend the showing in New Canaan.
The evening will be produced by New Canaan Library, as a fundraiser for its Children’s Room.
“We’re honored to be hosting the special premiere of Katherine Paterson’s latest novel-turned-film,” says Ellen Sullivan Crovatto, library director of development. “We can’t believe our good fortune to have the chance to introduce families to this wonderful work, and we’re grateful to co-producer John Paterson of New Canaan and Lionsgate for making it happen.”
Author Katherine Paterson with her son John, a New Canaan resident who co-produced the new film based on his mother’s book The Great Gilly Hopkins.
Katherine Paterson, who lives in Montpelier, Vermont, has more than 30 children’s and young adult fiction books to her credit, including the classic, Bridge to Terabithia, which was adapted into a Disney film grossing close to $200 million. She has won two National Book Awards, two Newbery Medals, and was a Hans Christian Andersen award winner.
John Paterson, Katherine’s son and a Gilly co-producer, has been a New Canaan resident for more than 20 years. His daughter is a sophomore at New Canaan High School, while his son, a freshman at Trinity College, also went to NCHS. A “lifetime advertising and marketing guy,” Paterson got into movie producing after Bridge to Terabithia’s screen success. “My mother and screenwriter brother, David, got the bug and wanted to make more films,” says John. “I realized the skill set I could bring to the equation was sales and marketing, packaging and presenting my mother’s various stories to potential financial partners and studios. My brother and I teamed up to create our own independent production house called Arcady Bay Entertainment, named after where we vacation up on Lake George.”
Katherine Paterson and her sons thought it would be easy to contract for another book adaptation movie after the success of Bridge to Terabithia in 2007. Not so. Gilly was shot in Brooklyn two years ago, but is only now seeing the light after being turned down by some major studios. “It’s a relatively small film,” says John. “When you say ‘family movie’ to financiers or studios, they ask, ‘Where are the wizards, dragons and animation?’ If you don’t answer in the affirmative they say no thank you, regardless of the pedigree of the story or the cast. It was very frustrating. Gilly is the kind of movie where you can take the whole family. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s got a little lesson, and it’s got substance. Why is it a bad thing to have a quieter movie out there that makes kids think, that makes kids want to talk with their parents about things, a movie that might help kids deal with actual real-life situations, whether it’s bullying, alienation, or non-traditional families? That’s the hole this movie fills. And it’s the genre my mother writes. She’s about perseverance and redemption.”
A division of Lionsgate finally said yes, with a limited theater release and a big payday potential via on-demand. Of course, the star power doesn’t hurt. It’s even more impressive considering the film’s entire budget was under $5 million.
Clare Foley of Fairfield County (at right) poses with her co-starts Glenn Close and Sophie Nelisse while filming in Brooklyn
“These are the kind of movies their agents tell them not to do,” says John. “The only reason they do it is because they feel a connection to the material and have a love as an artist for the project. Kathy [Bates] commands millions for her roles. Everyone lowered their fees to take part.”
Clare Foley says she’s excited to attend the premiere here, and will be on hand along with another child actor in the film, Zach Hernandez.
“I’ve been to New Canaan before and I love it. It’s such a great town,” she says.
Playing Gilly’s sidekick, Agnes, Clare is enthralled with the whole movie-making process. She got her start in acting when her mom, Megan, got her into TV commercials after doing them herself years earlier. Clare has four brothers, two older and two younger, all of whom have professional acting experience as well. “My older brothers did acting and modeling, and I just wanted to do whatever they did when I was younger,” she says. “I followed them into acting and had a passion for it. Ever since I’ve been in love with it.”
Clare has had a recurring role in the TV show Gotham, as well as smaller parts in other shows and movies. She was a bit starstruck acting alongside pros like Bates and Close, but said their friendliness made it easy. “Most of the time we’d talk about other things because at the end of the day we’re all just people and have lives outside of acting,” she says. “We’d talk about our families. But it was incredible to work with both of them. I felt so blessed. They’re obviously such amazing actresses. I learned so much.”
Clare loves sports [she plays soccer, squash, golf and tennis] as much as she does acting, enjoys listening to music [Twenty One Pilots and Taylor Swift are her faves] and going out to eat. “In Fairfield I like this new ice cream place called Milkcraft,” she says. “The whole style came from Asia. It’s unique. They make it all in small batches, with different flavors. I also like The Melting Pot in Darien.”
Clare Foley with co-star Kathy Bates
Mom Megan says it’s a trip seeing her daughter on the big screen, but is most proud of her for something else. “Clare’s really down to earth,” she says. “We’ve always downplayed acting and played up education. That’s the most important thing. She doesn’t really talk about her acting success at school. A lot of people don’t even know she acts. Then it’s like, ‘Are you kidding me? I had no idea. I happened to turn on the TV and there you were!’ ”
John Paterson is hoping many local kids will attend the New Canaan premiere. At a similar event in New Milford a few weeks ago, he was delighted with what happened. “If we had trotted out Glenn Close in front of those kids it would have been yawn city,” he says. “But to see the actor kids their age, live and in person? They couldn’t get enough. That’s what we’re excited about, to make it a family event. We want a bunch of kids, and let them feel that magic of seeing the same kids in real life that they just saw on the screen.”
Clare is ready, if a bit nervous.
“Signing autographs can be tiring and I definitely mess up a lot,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve skipped letters. And sometimes it’s whoopsie, I think I just spelled my name wrong!”
Tickets to the film are $30 per person, $100 for a family of four, and can be purchased online only at newcanaanlibrary.org/Gilly. The film is rated PG and children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. Guests can also partake in a pre-event pizza party for kids in the library’s Lamb Room, starting at 4:30 pm, and enjoy popcorn and soda at the theater.
Katherine Paterson will hold a Q&A session in the theater after the screening of The Great Gilly Hopkins and will be available to sign books, sold courtesy of Elm Street Books, at both the pre-event pizza party and at the theater. For more information, go to newcanaanlibrary.org.