Richard Paige — What’s it like to sit down in a theater and see your story on the silver screen?
“He said he was only taking notes and he put actual things I said in there!” Patti McCrory Harbaugh laughs. “I didn’t want anybody to know I’d really said those things.”
The he in question is writer/director Russell Harbaugh ’06. Those notes led to Love After Love, a movie that looks at how a family deals with the loss of its patriarch, an experience Harbaugh knows well. The story is loosely based on the passing of Russell’s father, Glenn, and how his mother, Patti, learned to carry on.
It’s a story Russell has been tinkering with for 12 years, a span that covers the time since graduating from Wabash. And now that the film has been released to critical acclaim, there are questions being answered for Patti as well.
“He spent literally 12 years dealing with it,” Patti says. “At first I couldn’t imagine why. I was slow to catch on, but that’s the way he was getting on with his life and mourning.”
Patti talks of her own struggles with moving on, feelings of betrayal, and making connections. She also found comfort in her son’s ability to take a nugget of their conversation and turn it into a scene in the movie. Not a direct link, but certainly an emotional one.
“The story really does veer from our family, but there were times when I felt like I didn’t fit one place, and I didn’t fit another,” she says. “I couldn’t understand when Russell and I would talk about it, how he could connect that activity in the film with our conversation. I understood things better seeing it as a story.”
Patti, a longtime costume designer and member of the theater faculty at the University of Evansville, is proud that her son embraced the power of art, and remembers fondly when that power might have been unleashed.
“It all started at Wabash when someone put a camera in his hand and said, ‘you gotta document this trip,’” she says. “Suddenly he had a reason for looking. We do that as artists. We try to process what we are experiencing.”
Love After Love opens nationally Friday. After a dozen years of conversation, of tinkering, of finding just the right voice, it’s now a story to share broadly. Patti sees her son at ease with the attention the film has brought. She sees it as a gift.
He’s brilliant,” she laughs, “I’m his mother, so I can say he’s brilliant, right? I’m wowed by the art of the film.
“There was something really visceral about it, but I wasn’t caught off guard because he took me along in the process,” Patti says. “That’s a gift, too. He could have gone off and just done it, but it’s felt like we’ve been connected the whole time.”