CHELSEA – Plenty of filmmakers have returned to their roots to make films as a way of exploring their childhoods.
But Los Angeles filmmaker Matt Aaron Krinsky has taken this idea a lot further. He has literally returned to his roots – his great grandmother’s old apartment – to direct a full-length indie feature he calls a “dark comedy” about an Irish Catholic family with a complicated past.
It’s called “All Saints Day,” and filming began earlier in December, most of it in a cramped two-bedroom apartment on the first floor of an old brick triple-decker at the corner of Essex and Shurtleff streets, near the massive Chelsea salt pile on the industrial waterfront. (Another scene will be filmed outside his parents’ home in Peabody.) The apartment has remained in his family all these years.
Films shot in Chelsea aren’t particularly uncommon. “Black Mass,” for example, about South Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, was shot around Essex Street in 2014.
“But Chelsea is always substituting in for a different location,“ Krinsky said in an interview. “I believe this may be the first film to actually set the story in Chelsea.”
Ironically, the film started life as a stage play set in South Boston’s Old Colony Housing Project.
The play was written by Julianne Homokay, whom Krinsky had met at a 2015 directors’ workshop in Los Angeles. They discovered they both had ties to the Boston area.
“We hit it off almost immediately,” Homokay said during a lunch break last week on the set, “probably because of the New England connection.”
Homokay grew up in Connecticut but spent a lot of time in Boston, including a short stint at Emerson College (“great school, wrong program.”) Her sister lives a half-block from the Old Colony Housing Project. Krinsky is from Peabody, went to Hillel Academy (now Epstein Hillel School) in Marblehead and to Peabody Veterans Memorial High School, and graduated Brandeis University in 2000.
But he has deep roots in Chelsea. His maternal grandfather, William Waxman, owned Waxman Insurance Agency on Broadway (now run by his uncle Steven); and his grandmother, who owned the building on Essex Street, was on the Chelsea School Committee. His mother Debra was a teacher at the Shurtleff School and the Frank M. Sokolowski Elementary School. His father Marty, originally from Hyde Park, is a speech pathologist.
Homokay told Krinsky about her play, which she’d called “All Saints in the Old Colony.” She asked him if he’d direct its first staged reading.
“I loved the story so much,” said Krinsky, who has made several previous films, including “An Eye for an Eye,” a short film starring Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner Sally Kirkland; and “Playdate,” which was acquired by the streaming platform IndieFlix.
While he is also a theater director, the filmmaker in him saw strong potential for a low-budget indie film. “It had a small cast, incredible dialogue, and was mainly in one location,” Krinsky said.
But with his Jewish upbringing, a story about a Catholic family in South Boston didn’t quite speak to him. So, after doing research to ensure the story could authentically still unfold outside of Southie, he and Homokay “Chelsea-fied it,” he said, reworking the story to be set in Chelsea.
Audiences will recognize references to such local landmarks as Katz’s Bagel Bakery, the Beacon Café, the Newbridge Café, and Arthur’s Deli. There’s a cameo by Boston actor and comedy legend Lenny Clarke, who plays a character known as The Captain who drinks the night away at a dive bar.
“In a drunken haze, he ran aground on the rocks and lost his boat, his license, everything. The only thing he has left is his captain’s hat,” Clarke said in an interview. Krinsky “called me out of the blue and I thought: ‘I gotta do this movie.’ I’m thrilled to be in it.”
The story takes place on Nov. 1 – All Saints’ Day – in 2014, and it’s about the splintered relationships between four estranged siblings who return to Chelsea to check on their troubled brother, who still lives in their childhood home.
At the center of the story is Kier Connolly (played by Don Swayze, brother of Patrick), who has hoarder tendencies and is on the verge of drinking himself to death in a filthy apartment, filled with mounds of cigarette butts, nicotine stains on the walls, and overflowing trash bins.
His brother Ronan is his caretaker, though an unwitting enabler, and finally becomes so worried about Kier he summons their estranged brother Mickey, formerly a Catholic priest and now an Episcopal priest. A sister who’d been given up for adoption years early suddenly materializes. An intervention gets botched.
At its core, “All Saints Day” is a universal story about forgiveness, belonging, alcoholism, and judgment – “one family’s best attempt to live the American dream and maintain a cohesive familial unit,” said Krinsky, 44.
And while the characters are not Jewish, “it feels authentic to me,” he said. “The script touches on a lot of elements – alcoholism, gentrification, the immigrant experience. What speaks the most to me is seeing how, with the pandemic, the role of the caretaker is often overlooked. I see it in this story – that people need to communally grieve for the people they lost.
“There are too many stories out there of what I call rich people behaving badly,” he said. That upper one percent who are richer than rich, and doing bad things. I like the idea of shining a light on a different socioeconomic class.”
Linda Matchan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.