By Nichole Dupont
Atavism is a throwback or a remnant with traits to a particular time. That is precisely what award-winning director Cameo Wood
sees when she visits the main drag of her hometown, Pittsfield, Mass. Wood grew up and came of age during the long, post-industrial, post-General Electric decline of the Berkshires’ largest city. Soon she will be returning to her childhood haunt to shoot “The Atavist
,” her first feature-length sci-fi film which explores the strange timelessness of small towns, through the eyes of a gritty time traveler.
“I remember there was a big discussion about the Berkshire Mall opening on North Street,” says Wood. “It was…I mean people were thrashing here in the '80s. People were feeling so stuck and so lost in time. There was no central industry anymore, it left a giant hole.”
Wood is speaking on the phone from Missouri, where she is making one stop of many on the film festival circuit with her short film “Real Artists
,” which has already gathered numerous awards and red carpet attention.
“I’m going to be on the road with "Real Artists" until April, and I’ve been on the road since March,” she says.
Cameo Wood and Cortney Wright filming a pitch video.
In between stops at Cannes, Nantes, Portland and Rome, Wood is carving out chunks of time to finish the screenplay for “The Atavist” with co-writer, actress and "wordsmith" Cortney Wright (“Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart,” “Game Shakers,” and “General Hospital”). Veteran visual effects producer Diane Pearlman
, executive director of the Berkshire Film and Media Arts Collaborative, will produce the film.
“The Atavist” got off the ground when Wood learned about the Hometown Heroes Rally
, a crowdfunding campaign presented by Seed&Spark and the Duplass brothers
. The rally "champions the next generation of filmmakers making movies with their local community and resources." Winners will be chosen on November 4, but Wood says the show will go on whether or not her film is chosen as a winner (but the $25,000 would be really nice). She and her crew will be back in the Berkshires to scout out locations in the gray off-season. Some of the filming will happen at Hancock Shaker Village
, one of Wood’s favorite places to visit as a child. She says she’s done some research on the Shakers, which has changed her perspective on the village.
“I think we all know that the Shakers were peaceful people, but I’ve been really delving into their history. And I found out that they would adopt African-American babies who were born into slavery, as well as adult slaves who were believers, and bring them into their villages as equals,” Wood says. “It was a safe haven, for women, for people of color. There was no discrimination in that society. I just find it amazing that whether it was the 1770s or the 1880s or whenever, that the village was a safe place. Even in the future. That’s how I see time travel.”
Wood has no intentions of romanticizing the past, which, she says, is sometimes the way of small-town U.S.A. Every golden era has its dark underpinnings, and the Berkshires are no exception.
“We run into a lot of danger when we romanticize the past,” she says. “We tend to forget. We have this weird culture of saying we’re inclusive, but our thinking turns out not to be that way.”
The same can be said for Hollywood. Which is why the Hometown Heroes Rally is so poignant, especially in a time where the spotlight on sexual harassment, misogyny, racial discrimination and ageism is brighter than ever. Wood is committed (and required to a degree) to have a crew that is at least 80 percent from the Berkshires — "as much local talent as possible" — (and San Francisco, where Wood resides part of the year). Additionally, Wood says she has to have a crew that represents…well…life.
“As a director, you have to fight for all kinds of things,” she says. “We’re not here to do something easy, we’re here to do something that matters.”