Local filmmaker offers silent movie that isn’t

Director Justin Nathanson watches the projection of “Charleston, a Love Letter” as live musicians play the score.

Filmmaker Justin Nathanson is premiering his silent film tonight at the Hippodrome at Aquarium Warf. So naturally he’s invited a group of musicians.

“Charleston, a Love Letter” is a silent film without the silence, a blend of captured images and live sound presented as part of Piccolo Spoleto. Scenes of The Battery, King Street and the harbor will be accompanied by a group of musicians led by Entropy Ensemble’s Andrew Walker.

It’s all in the service of what Nathanson hopes will be a truly unique presentation.

“Film is such a new medium, I feel like things can still be done differently. I’m just trying to tweak the medium,” he said.

The filmmaker has lived and worked in Charleston for eight years, and his film, television and web production business, The Cut Company, is providing all the promotional material for Piccolo Spoleto this year.

For his own exhibit, Nathanson worked with Walker to create a visually and musically fluid experience.

“It was figuring out how we would translate the actions on screen to the instruments,” Nathanson said.

Walker assembled a group of six local musicians who join him on stage in front of the Hippodrome’s massive IMAX screen, where the sounds of the guitar, cello, drums, bass and keys will fuse with Nathanson’s images of sunsets, cityscapes and fisherman.

The process of scoring the film began before the picture was finished, with each member of the ensemble taking responsibility for a section they found particularly moving.

In less than a week the musicians provided Nathanson with more than 20 compositions.

“He’s got his medium, we’ve got ours and now we’re going to paint this thing,” Walker said.

Recurring motifs and melodies populate the score, but Nathanson and Walker are encouraging their musicians to maintain the same improvisational energy that has driven their rehearsals.

Drummer Stuart White acknowledged the looseness that the ensemble’s collaborative atmosphere has inspired.

“The second show could be different than the first show,” White said.

It’s all a part of the raw emotional response that Nathanson is looking to elicit from his audience, a passion that matches his own enthusiasm for the place he calls home.

“If you were going to write down everything you want in a place to live, I think Charleston has it,” Nathanson said.

Frank Ready is a Newhouse School graduate student.