SAHKANAGA reps the rare U.S. feature outside the faith-based entertainment niche that operates from a sincere Christian viewpoint, yet is also critical of pious-seeming hypocrisy. Summerour conveys in subtle, impressionistic strokes how central faith is to this community; similarly, Paul’s troubled conscience and budding adolescent sexuality provide a naturalistic foreground from which the crematorium catastrophe is viewed with curiosity rather than sensationalism.
Reminiscent of early David Gordon Green in its ambivalent small-town lyricism, pic hits a textural/tonal ground somewhere between TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and BLUE VELVET, much assisted by Damian Ward’s grainy, evocative Super 16 lensing. Mostly non-pro thesps (many cast in the area where the real-life events occurred and the pic was shot) are spot-on, other tech/design contributions assured.
It is ultimately a story not just about an event that tears a town apart but also how the town processes it (touching on everything from racism to religion to the nature of the soul, the body, and heaven) and ultimately forgiveness and the healing of wounds. It’s amazingly well done, and a real surprise.
SAHKANAGA was filmed on location in Walker County, GA, with a cast of non-professional actors, some of whom had direct connections to the real-life scandal. For the most part, the acting is quite spot-on and nicely accented by gritty, realistic emotions. It is worth specifically pointing out that Kristin Rievley and Trevor Neuhoff are fantastic — both of them definitely have promising careers as actors ahead of them.
Damian Ward’s cinematography is breathtakingly gorgeous. It certainly helps that Walker County is so goddamn photographic, but even the interior scenes are perfectly lit and framed. I might as well also bring up that the camera totally adores Rievley and Neuhoff — it literally makes them glow with radiance.
First and foremost, I love the role that religion — specifically Christianity — plays in SAHKANAGA. It would be difficult to shoot a film set in Walker County that does not acknowledge the prevalence of Christianity; but I find it most intriguing that Summerour does not embrace or condemn religion. Even the Christian television host, Lovey (Sharon Huey), is portrayed without any bias whatsoever. One might say that religion is just another character in SAHKANAGA; and, as with the human actors, it plays its role with the utmost subtlety.
Director Summerour, drawing on a true-life story that rocked Walker County, GA a decade back, eschews cheap horror-film tricks to increase our fear of the unburied dead with his ability to manipulate Southern Gothic imagery and an acute sense of the proper pacing for this story, and his young lead’s ability to command our attention with unexpected moments of stillness. Young actor Trevor Neuhoff draws skeptical adults into the grip of stories about childhood’s end.
A very deserving Audience Award winner at the Atlanta Film Festival last April, SAHKANAGA recreates the drama surrounding the Tri-State Crematory incident from the early 2000s. Writer-director John Henry Summerour, a native to the area, used a cast of locals and made an intriguing film that pulls you in deep.
SAHKANAGA wins the Oglethorpe Award for Excellence in Georgia Cinema from the Georgia Film Critics Association!
SAHKANAGA is featured in this article from festival programmer Holly Herrick about six independent films that have had successful runs without any Sundance affiliation.
A powerful blend of coming-of-age and real life scandal, SAHKANAGA impresses with its verisimilitude and handles the complex reactions of a community to the shocking news that the local crematorium owner was no longer cremating the bodies but dumping them in the woods with a deep sense of understanding and empathy. By the end the film achieves a healing power…
When a teenage boy discovers a dark secret haunting his small town, he is faced with the decision to keep it to himself or expose it, knowing that he might risk losing his family’s business, friendships, and his first love.
Set against the grisly backdrop of the shocking Tri-State Crematory scandal in rural Georgia (for those who don’t recall: bodies were being dumped in the woods instead of being cremated), SAHKANAGA is a coming-of-age drama that is at once seemingly fresh and also a throwback to the Southern Gothic fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers.
Shot near the site of the events that inspired the story and employing untrained actors from the area, the film possesses a rare (and creepy) authenticity. Director John Henry Summerour captures the rural South like few other filmmakers have.
Blaustein said this film is one of the most unique and passionate films coming to festival this year. “The actor is going to be a star in my opinion,” she said. “Hands down it is one of my favorite independent films.”
Truly a masterpiece of storytelling, Summerour blends all these story lines and gets brilliant performances from a cast of non-professional actors.
With stellar performances and beautiful storytelling, SAHKANAGA weaves a disturbing and stunning tale of youth, love, corruption, religious ties and morality.
The feature had a grittiness that only the 16mm film could give. It really feels like you are in Georgia, ten years ago, and you yourself are a teen having to make such tough choices.
A film that was inspired by the Tri-State Crematory scandal took home the prize for best narrative feature at the Rome International Film Festival on Saturday night.
SAHKANAGA tells the story of a teenager who makes a gruesome discovery in the woods and is based on the 2002 scandal surrounding Ray Brent Marsh, who police said failed to cremate hundreds of bodies at his Walker County crematory.
“This is a huge honor because I made this for the people of Northwest Georgia and my family and friends,” said the film’s creator, John Henry Summerour, a Chickamauga native living in New York.
Based on a true-life incident in 2002, this film has the biting observations and eccentric characters of a Southern Gothic short story. The director has a keen eye for stark, unsettling imagery—and a taste for raw irony—as he unfurls a tale of funeral home corruption in Walker County, Georgia.
Drenched in allusions to history, class struggle and folklore, SAHKANAGA has a place next to honored Southern stories from ABSALOM, ABSALOM! to SLINGBLADE.
SAHKANAGA is a strong dramatic feature from writer and director John Henry Summerour that has created heavy buzz on the festival circuit. It is based, in fact, on a horrific incident in 2002 in Walker County, Ga., where as many as 2,000 bodies that were supposed to have been cremated were found dumped around the property of the crematory. The protagonist is a teenager named Paul (Trevor Neuhoff) whose father runs the local funeral home. Paul’s dad doesn’t know that the guy he hires to do the cremations is dumping bodies in the woods. It is Paul who makes the discovery. This creates turmoil in the little town and turns his family into social pariahs, at least for a time. SAHKANAGA examines the horrible power of secrets, as well as what happens when the bonds of trust on which society depends are broken, especially as regards something as sacred as burial. The film also deals with the touching but perhaps doomed romance between Paul and Lyla (Kristin Rievley), whose grandfather’s body was among those dumped in the woods. The film makes adroit use of some non-professional actors, many of whom had connections to the real-life scandal.
SAHKANAGA is featured in an article about Nice Shoes and colorist Lenny Mastrandrea.
I especially like SAHKANAGA, a fictional take on a real-life horror story that gripped a small Georgian town. Writer-director John Henry Summerour gently reworks the coming-of-age genre while bringing up questions about the existence of body and soul after death. Allison was intrigued by the, um, organic-looking special effects and reports this: “Summerour got unprecedented access to a forensic anthropology lab at the local university. They stipulated which angles he could film from but gave him, without a doubt, footage better than anything Hollywood could ever attempt. Summerour had us all wondering how he got those maggots to behave so darn well …”