To know Janey is to love Janey. A dancing, chuckling, playwriting 90-year-old great-grandmother, Janey Callahan-Chin is the essence of youth. Her unwavering positivity and bulletproof work ethic have shaped an indispensable role in the small town community of Rio Vista, California: she’s been writing, directing, and producing local stage plays for thirteen years. “Janey Makes A Play” documents Janey’s non-profit troop No Small Thing Productions as they prepare for their eighteenth play—an original story about a mortgage banker, his daughter, and the quest to save their town from The Great Depression. Director Jared Callahan (AD on “I Am Not A Hipster” and the short that inspired “Short Term 12”) delivers his feature-length debut with graceful command and charming purpose. This Atlanta Film Festival World Premiere is a tender, joyous must-see.
The film opens two days before the play’s Opening Night. Janey dons a Mexican poncho, a pair of Groucho glasses, and fake rubber teeth for her cameo rehearsal. The small, 100-seat theatre swarms with last minute touches and frenzied anticipation. A polished performance seems far from ready, but Janey never loses her patience or her smile. Skip back three months and meet the cast-within-a-cast: there’s Lorren Montgomery, a high school senior who uses Janey’s plays to express her dramatic, artist self. There’s Sean, affable high school football player who just can’t seem to keep his lines straight. And there’s Kianna, an unpredictable, offbeat teen with a big heart and even bigger talent. The list goes on and on—Tom, Janie, Dick, Judy, Murphy…. the aptly titled No Small Thing Productions cast and crew donate countless skills and passions to every show.
The beauty of “Janey Makes A Play” doesn’t stop with its people. Jared’s film presents Bryan Bangerter’s photography and Brent Ryan Green’s production (under Green’s own Toy Gun Films) in a shining light, and the result is a breezy and colorful gem. The movie is as much a portrait of Rio Vista as it is of the community; historian Phil Pezzaglia walks us through a detailed background of the old Spanish town, establishing the setting as the only character older than Janey herself. Joel P. West composes a versatile score that’s both whimsical and profound as needed.
Janey’s contagious laughter and adorable love story (with help from husband Ron Chin) cast a spell that’s hard to shake. “Janey Makes A Play” is a close-knit endeavor championed by her grandson, Jared, whose (likely genetic) energy and positivity are just as contagious. I had the opportunity at Festival Headquarters to ask him a few questions about his directorial debut.
>>How would you describe your relationship with Janey? Is she your filmmaking inspiration?
4 out of 5 stars.