Student Filmmaker Tackles Difficult Subjects in Feature DebutPublished by Tom Porter
Henry Spritz '23 has been making movies since middle school. His most recent project explores themes that are depressingly familiar to many who have grown up in small-town America.
“For many years I had wanted to make a movie that touches on the opioid epidemic, particularly here in Maine, where I have lived my whole life,” said Spritz, who grew up in Portland and Belfast. “Initially I didn’t know how that project would take shape, but I knew I would have to approach it with the utmost care. As a freshman two years ago, I finally felt I was in a place where I had a story, a longer-form project that I could start working on.”
The result was Sunner, Spritz’s first feature length film. Shot in the summer of 2019, it premiered last semester in front of a large student audience at a screening in Smith Union. It is set in the fictional Maine town of Green Heights, where two young adults—recent high school graduates—agonize over the best way to honor the friends they’ve lost, and at the same time memorialize their own past. In the original cut of the movie the opioid epidemic was mentioned in quite explicit detail, explained Spritz, a visual arts major and probable cinema studies minor. “The final cut contains fewer overt references to it, but addiction is still a major theme of the movie,” he added. “I remember hearing a statistic when I was growing up, that one person was dying every day in Maine from an opioid overdose. In a state with such a lot of small, close-knit communities, this is a devastating statistic, and it was very much on my mind when I was writing the movie.”
The film’s other major theme, said Spritz, is something that many people growing up in places like Maine will be familiar with—the love-hate dynamic you have with the place you’re from. “Maine is a great place to grow up, with beaches, mountains, and the like, but as you approach adulthood it’s also a place than can be claustrophobic and stifling. I remember, as a teenager, yearning for the excitement of big cities like LA or New York, and it’s this sense of boredom and wanting to escape that also influences the movie and the way its main characters behave.”
Spritz himself overcame this teenage wanderlust, electing to remain in his home state to pursue his education after initially considering some other options. “Originally, I was dead set on going to film school out of state, but, as you can see, I ended up only about twenty minutes north of where I went to high school.” Apart from the obvious benefits of a Bowdoin education, a large part of Maine’s appeal, said Spritz, is that it's such a great playground for up-and-coming filmmakers. “There’s so much space here and so many great locations where ‘guerrilla’ filmmakers like myself can just go and shoot, with a lot less hassle and red tape than you would encounter working in a big city. We filmed in an abandoned lumber mill, a quarry, and a beach, among other places.”
“I remember hearing a statistic when I was growing up, that one person was dying every day in Maine from an opioid overdose. In a state with such a lot of small, close-knit communities, this is a devastating statistic, and it was very much on my mind when I was writing the movie.”
Maine’s small but vibrant creative economy also means there are many networking opportunities for young artists like Spritz. Throughout his short career, he said, he has had the opportunity to connect with the filmmaking community across the entire state. “There’s such freedom to create here if you have the passion and the commitment.
For example, when I was at high school in Portland, some friends and I set up a youth film festival that ran for a couple of years in Congress Square Park.” For his latest movie, which Spritz funded with his savings, he ran a lean operation, using a mix of professional and amateur actors, all of whom were given considerable freedom to improvise around the script. “We also used a skeleton crew, with just one cameraman, which was normally me, a couple of sound people, and a field mixer, along with the actors. I don’t think we ever had more than five people on set.”
Sunner has so far been screened in New York City as well as on the Bowdoin campus. Spritz has not yet released it online but is planning another screening in Portland. Spritz is currently working on his next project, a short movie filmed last year using one of the actors from Sunner. After Bowdoin, he has no great designs to go to film school and become a Hollywood director. “I’m happy where I am as a homegrown filmmaker. I’m learning so much here and just want to continue making my own stuff.”