Section: Arts

The search for the Jackalope leads alumnus back to Kenyon

The search for the Jackalope leads alumnus back to Kenyon

Courtesy of Justin Aikman

By Anna Dunlavey

Although the jackalope is a mythical creature, it came to life on film this past summer — right here in Gambier.

The second of three phases of shooting for the upcoming film Looking for the Jackalope took place in Knox County from July 20 to Aug. 6. Eighty percent of the film was shot in Knox County — for the most part, right here at Kenyon. Most of Jackalope was shot in and around Old Kenyon Residence Hall, with many scenes taking place in the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity lounge and the West Wing Bullseye. Filming also took place in Bushnell Residence Hall, the cemetery behind Rosse Hall, Peirce Hall and the nearby “upside-down tree.”

The film is based on writer and director Karl Shefelman’s ’80 own experience of attempting to hitchhike to his 10-year Kenyon reunion. The idea of a jackalope figuring into the plot came to Shefelman in a dream, in which he was on Kenyon’s campus when a jackalope appeared and started talking to him. The jackalope, according to Shefelman, is both “a demon for the main character [in the film] and a metaphor for something that is mythical and doesn’t exist.”

Jackalope is about how “nostalgia can lead you down the wrong road,” Shefelman said. The film follows Jordan Sterling, a former best-selling author living in New York who has spent much of his life attempting to discover “the fabled jackalope.” Sterling decides to return to his alma mater in Ohio for his 10-year reunion after learning that his college girlfriend will be there. After missing his flight, Sterling embarks on a road trip to make it to the reunion, reminiscent of the road trip he and his girlfriend took after graduation. On his journey he encounters, “a living, breathing jackalope,” who gives him “some bad advice,” Shefelman said.

The first phase of production of the film was completed two years ago, and then Shefelman took a break to raise more funds for the movie through Internet campaigns on sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. He had always wanted to shoot at Kenyon, and not only because he graduated from here — “It’s one of the most beautiful campus spots, and there is a magical feel to the place, which really suited a story about nostalgia,” he said.

Other Kenyon alumni also assisted Shefelman with the project, and Kenyon’s Career Development Office reached out to students who were interested in being involved as production assistants. Nearly everyone else on the production crew of around 30 hailed from the Mount Vernon area.

Jackalope producer Matt Starr, who also plays the role of the “Knox County Sheriff” in the film, was impressed with the Kenyon students involved. “They were all wonderful, they were just absolutely fabulous,” he said. “We were just so thrilled with how much the Kenyon students immersed themselves in the project, because it was hard work.” Shefelman agreed, saying, “These kids were so sharp, and so eager to learn.”

The Kenyon students also felt that they got a lot out of their experience. “I felt like I had a chance to know the community and the people who actually live here,” Kim Zhang ’16, who worked in the camera department, said. Will Pounds ’17 and Zane Krampert ’16, both production assistants in the art department, said they enjoyed the connections they made. “You get to know [everyone] quite well in a very short period of time,” Krampert said, “which gives a sense of intensity and camaraderie to the whole experience.”

Jackalope still has a bit of progress to make before reaching the screen and does not yet have an official release date. The final phase of filming will be shot in New York City this weekend, and Shefelman hopes the film will be finished by the end of the year. The film will debut at festivals in 2015 and may be screened at Kenyon in the spring.

Some deride Gambier as  “the middle of nowhere,” but Starr felt it nonetheless worked well as a film set. “Knowing that filmmaking can be done anywhere, not just in Hollywood, is pretty liberating,” he said.


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