Sunday, October 3, 2021

Woodstock Film Festival: Horton Foote: The Road To Home


Photo by Susan Johann

"As a writer you strive for a sense of truth." — Horton Foote

Playwright Horton Foote (1916-2009) had been honored with many awards and nominations in his lifetime including Emmy awards, Tony nominations, the National Medal of Arts and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Tender Mercies (1983). But chances are, despite his widespread recognition, you may not have heard his name.

Directed by Anne Rapp, Horton Foote: The Road to Home shines a spotlight on a talented and sensitive writer who was often misunderstood and underappreciated by Hollywood. Foote grew up in Wharton, Texas, a small town that would be the inspiration for his many plays for theater, television and film. His original stories were inspired by his local community. He changed real names to fictitious ones and Wharton transformed itself into Harrison, Texas, to protect the locals, and frankly himself from scrutiny. He was particularly attracted to sensitive characters who faced great challenges but still continued on. His stories weren't grandiose nor were they commercial. But they were powerful. And unlike many of his peers, Foote wrote great parts for women. Vulnerable but strong, these women were central to the stories and not just moving pieces that only served the plot. 

In the 1950s and 1960s, Foote wrote many teleplays for shows like American Playhouse, The Dupont Show of the Mount, Playhouse 90 and more. He preferred to write original pieces or adapt his own work but would sometimes adapt other writers work to screen. Foote almost turned down the opportunity to adapt Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird to screen but was convinced by his wife and business partner to give it a go. The result was a resounding success with Foote winning, much to his surprise, his first Academy Award. For Foote, adapting another writer's work was something he did sparingly. He really had to like the material and sympathize with the writer. He called it a painful process because it required him to be both involved in the material and to also be objective. Hollywood saw potential in Foote but didn't know how to work with him. Foote took criticism well however he was firm in his convictions. His work had to be authentic and true to his vision. A commercial writer he was not. He wrote many movie screenplays but only a handful made it to the screen with To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies being his best known work.

"A gentle, sweet man who had a sharp eye and a sharp mind." — Edward Albee


Rapps' documentary takes the viewer on a journey into the world of Horton Foote. There are interviews with Foote's daughters as well as Edward Albee, Robert Duvall, Matthew Broderick, directors, actors, filmmakers and others who worked with Foote during his lifetime. Although Foote died in 2009, the documentary has a lot of footage of Foote talking about his life and career, his love of Wharton and his never ending desire to tell stories. Throughout the film are theatrical scenes, mostly acted out soliloquies from Foote's theatrical plays. 

Horton Foote: The Road to Home is a loving and tender tribute to a great dramatist.

Horton Foote: The Road to Home premiered at the 2021 Woodstock Film Festival. Visit the film's official website for more information.

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