FARMINGTON — In the movie “Tumbledown” many Maine references such as the main character flipping through an Uncle Henry’s booklet or being able to fully grasp that an ATV is an acceptable way to traverse a county might go unappreciated by national audiences.

But Desi Van Til, the film’s screenwriter who based “Tumbledown” on her experiences growing up in the Franklin County community, said Friday it’s OK if audiences nationwide don’t get the Maine jokes, as long as they can appreciate the Maine community spirit she aimed to portray in her first film.

“There are certain laughs that have been universal at showings in LA and Napa Valley. There are other laughs and things that are appreciated for Maine audiences only,” Van Til said. “My dream is to have a beloved and enduring film that people will love and watch about my hometown. For people from Maine to connect with, but also people who don’t know anything about Maine and will say, ‘Wow, what a great community.'”

“Tumbledown,” a romantic comedy based in Franklin County though filmed mostly in Massachusetts, was first shown in Maine at the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville in July. The film opened the festival, garnering the event’s first ever sold-out opening night with an audience heavy with Farmington area residents who roared approval, laughed and clapped not only at the Maine jokes, but at familiar faces and places.


The film was released nationwide on Feb. 12. At Farmington’s Narrow Gauge Cinemas, Van Til and her husband, Sean Mewshaw, who directed the film, hosted a showing on Feb. 13.


“Tumbledown” opened as the No. 2 picture for Narrow Gauge Cinemas behind “Deadpool” and surpassing “Zoolander 2” and “How to be Single,” which also had national openings the weekend of Feb. 12. As of Friday, “Tumbledown” was still Narrow Gauge’s No. 2 picture. Nationally, 72 percent of audience members have enjoyed the film, according to Rotten Tomatoes.

John Moore, owner of Narrow Gauge Cinemas, said audiences have been pouring in for the film. Moore said the initial rush of audiences over the opening weekend was largely because of the Farmington influences.

“A lot of people had a lot of pride,” Moore said. “It was a lot of fun reading the credits at the end and reading the names of people you know.”

While initial local reaction was strong because of its Farmington ties, Moore said the word got out that it was a good film regardless of its Franklin County roots, and its quality as a film held the movie at its No. 2 spot all week.

The movie stars Rebecca Hall, playing Hannah, a local widow grieving over the loss of her singer-songwriter husband who died while hiking Tumbledown mountain in Weld, Maine. Opposite Hall in the film is Jason Sudeikis, playing Andrew, an academic from New York City who wants to write a book about Hannah’s husband. A Farmington-type town provides the backdrop for the romantic comedy as Andrew navigates the local community to try to help Hannah tell her husband’s story.

“(The movie) has done extremely well,” Moore said. “It’s generally a decent picture and the word got out … I think people were really proud of the fact that it was a really great movie that you would enjoy regardless of the Maine ties.”



Van Til moved to Farmington when she was 8 years old and graduated from Mt. Blue High School in 1995. While growing up, Van Til said she met so many unique characters that for a writer, it was a natural setting.

“Farmington gave me such fertile grounds in terms of rich and real characters it was impossible to not start there,” Van Til said.

She wrote and finished the screenplay eight years ago while living in Los Angeles with Mewshaw. The couple has since moved to Portland. Van Til said she was homesick for Farmington when she was in LA. Writing the screenplay, using inspiration from real-life Farmingtonians to create characters, was an act of love and a way to portray her experience in a small Maine town, which she felt she hadn’t necessarily seen in other films.

“I always get frustrated with Hollywood depictions of small town America being really hokey,” Desi said. “There is an assumption that if you live in a really small town in the woods, that you’re probably not as smart as people who live in a city. In Farmington, there are world-class minds that have chosen to live in the woods of Maine … You can be living in a small town and (that) doesn’t necessarily mean you’re living a small life.”

In “Tumbledown,” Van Til gave the character Hannah a doctorate, which was a detail kept masked until a family dinner unveiled the doctorate degree hanging on the wall, where city slicker Andrew discovered it with astonishment.


One character that Van Til carried over from real life was the film’s bookstore owner, Upton, played by Griffin Dunne. The character was loosely based on Kenny Brechner, who owns Devaney, Doak and Garret Booksellers in downtown Farmington. Brechner was Van Til’s boss when she worked at the store as a high school student.

Brechner said last week that “Tumbledown” did a good job accurately depicting the intelligent and enlightened local community.

“It’s our 25th year and we are here because there are people who love to read and interact in the world of ideas,” Brechner said. “There is nothing but good in the (movie) having occurred. ”

Moore agreed that the movie shines a positive light on the reality of the small town’s community.

“I think she did a great job,” Moore said. “It’s an eclectic group of people, and you see that there are definitely some characters we can all relate to … This area attracts a wide variety of people. From extreme liberalism to its extreme conservatism, it’s a nice mix.”



Another point that Brechner says Van Til got right was her depiction of Farmington’s community mentality.

“Community is our first, middle and last name, and we’re completely engaged with that. That’s something that kind of when you have limited resources, the best resources you have are each other.”

In the movie, Hannah writes a community profile column for the local paper, profiling made-for-the-movie residents like Ethan Woodcock, who decks out his ATV with a disco ball and offers female students rides to and from school.

Van Til said that she wrote a couple of additional community profile scenes depicting other residents that didn’t make it into the film. The characters are not carbon copies of people Van Til knew in real life, but more composite characters she crafted to depict Farmington’s diverse community.

In addition to being released nationally in theaters on Friday, the movie was also released for purchase on iTunes. Van Til enjoys the fact the wide release means lots of people will get to know Farmington.

“It brings me a lot of pleasure and pride that on iTunes in any city or town there are people curling up and spending the night in Farmington, Maine,” she said.


While Van Til is confident she was able to bring Farmington’s essence to the big screen, one thing she wasn’t able to do despite dogged efforts was to film the movie in Maine. Because of production incentives offered by Massachusetts, the movie was filmed in Concord.

“If the Legislature gets their act together, (film) could be a really good opportunity for Maine,” Moore said. “These types of productions only spend money, and there is no infrastructure that you have to provide for them.”

In 2008, Van Til and Mewshaw lobbied in Augusta for the state to pass legislation that would offer better tax incentives for filmmakers, but their efforts were to no avail.

“Shooting in Mass. was a heartbreak,” Van Til said. “Once we knew we had financiers at a certain budget level, we knew there was nothing we could do to convince anyone to shoot in Maine.”

While the movie was not shot in Maine, several establishing shots of Tumbledown mountain and Webb Lake were used in the film. The shots are only two seconds or three seconds here and there, but Van Til said their inclusion was important to establish “the grandeur of Maine.”

Van Til said that the film’s production designer, Jane Stewart, pulled off replicating downtown Farmington in downtown Concord, Massachusetts. Brechner allowed a Devaney, Doak and Garrett Booksellers’ sign to be hoisted over the set bookstore in Concord.


“I don’t think the fact that where it was filmed had anything to do with the outcome,” Brechner said. “How much better can you do a tribute to a town than make a movie? It was exceptionally well done.”

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

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