The direct approach: Lilburn native's new movie getting rave reviews at film festivals

LAWRENCEVILLE - Music and entertainment publication Paste Magazine called "That Evening Sun" the "crown jewel" of the 2009 Atlanta Film Festival.

The festival jury - two critics and a filmmaker - agreed. "That Evening Sun," written and directed by Lilburn native Scott Teems, received the jury award for best narrative feature Sunday night after going up against nine other films.

"It means more than I could put into words," Teems said of the award while driving to his parents' home in Grayson on Monday. "It's a real honor to come back to your hometown and to be honored in this way."

The independent feature-length film received audience awards (those who view the films vote) for best narrative feature in its two previous festivals, and there's even some Oscar buzz surrounding star Hal Holbrook, appearing in his first film role since his 2008 Academy Award nomination for "Into the Wild."

"When people say nice things about your movie, it's a real gratifying feeling," Teems said Sunday night as his parents, Ray and Becky Teems, watched a screening of the film.

"That's the real gift at this particular moment," the 34-year-old added. "In Atlanta, my family and friends can come and see what I've been trying to do the last 10 years, the fruits of my labor."

Based on the short story "I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down" by award-winning Southern author William Gay, Teems' film follows an aging Tennessee farmer as he returns from a forced stay at a retirement community to his homestead, where he intends to live out his final days. Upon his return, Abner Meecham finds his son has leased the property to an old adversary. Simmering tensions come to a boil as neither wants to give up a claim to the land.

"It's a wonderful film," said Teems' father, Ray, who remembered his son making movies as a 12-year-old at Trickum Middle School with a black-and-white camera.

"That just evolved," he said, "so we knew that (filmmaking) was Scott's lifelong ambition from the time he was that young."

"It's very thrilling as a parent to see your child have success at something he's really worked hard at and loves," Becky Teems said. "He really loves what he does."

Speaking almost reverently about his Southern heritage, Scott Teems said he hopes "That Evening Sun" presents an authentic picture of the region in which he was raised.

"Gwinnett County is just part of who I am and it's just ingrained in the fabric of how I look at everything," said Teems, who now lives in Los Angeles with his wife, T.J., and their two children. "It's important to me, not just out of respect to the author of the original short story, who set the story in Tennessee, and me as a Georgia native and child of the South, to portray the area of the South authentically. Hopefully (Gwinnett residents will) see an honest portrayal of their world (in the film)."

"That Evening Sun" was filmed in Tennessee and also stars Holbrook's wife, Tennessee native Dixie Carter, famous for playing Julia Sugarbaker on the TV show "Designing Women." This is the first film in which Holbrook and Carter have appeared together. Georgia native Ray McKinnon plays the role of Abner Meecham's adversary and was a producer for the film.

"I'm very proud of this movie," Teems said. "It looks and feels bigger than it is."

"That Evening Sun" was shot in 22 days with what Teems called "limited resources," i.e. lacking the big budget large films have.

"It took the full commitment of everyone (involved in this film) to overcome the constraints of limited time and money," Teems said. "The people who worked on this film, I can't say enough about."

Up next for Teems are film festivals in Boston and Syracuse next week and then festivals around the country in the coming months.

"That'll be a real test," he said, "to see if ('That Evening Sun') truly does transcend the region."

Teems hopes to secure national distribution for the film in the next couple months as well.

"It's a hard time for independent films," he said. "We've got to find a distributor who is courageous and who believes in what this movie can be."

Seeing his movie in theaters, "that would be a real dream come true," Teems said.

And as "That Evening Sun" continues to draw festival awards, securing distribution will only become easier for the film that Teems said might on the surface seem challenging to market.

"We believe that the audiences have spoken, and the critics have spoken now, and they have said this is a viable movie that people will come see," he said.

The final screening of "That Evening Sun" will be show at 4 p.m. today at Landmark Midtown, 931 Monroe Drive N.E. in Atlanta.

SideBar: If you go

· What: Screening of Lilburn native Scott Teems' film "That Evening Sun"

· When: 4 p.m. today

· Where: Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive N.E., Atlanta

· Cost: $10

· For more information: Visit www.atlantafilmfestival.com