The college tour. It’s a rite of passage for most college-bound high school students. A new film by Baltimore natives Adam Rodgers and Sig Libowitz turns the tables on the college application process by taking a bittersweet look at two parents played by Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga. They form an immediate connection when they meet on a college tour with their children. Fed up with their respective kids’ attitudes, the two parents skip the tour and end up spending the day together.
“The great thing about this film is that everyone thinks it will be about the kids, but it’s actually about the parents,” said Libowitz, 45, the film’s producer.
Libowitz grew up in Baltimore City attending Talmudical Academy and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. After high school, he attended New York University, where he studied acting at the Tisch School of the Arts. Now a Bethesda resident, Libowitz also has a law degree from University of Maryland.
Co-writer and director Rodgers, 47, a Pikesville High School graduate who attended Duke University and NYU’s graduate film school, said the concept for “At Middleton” was inspired by his own college tour experiences.
“A zillion years ago when I was on my college tour, I got to around the 15th stop and the fatigue set in. This girl wandered off the tour, and my 16-year-old self just drifted off with her,” he recalled.
Years later when Rodgers and the film’s co-writer, Glenn German, discussed the concept of making a movie about a college tour, they decided that focusing on the parents’ experience would be a more interesting storyline.
As the father of a freshman in college, Rodgers is familiar with the mixed emotions that arise before sending a child to college.
“You’re thrilled and excited for them, but there’s also this sense of panic and loss. People behave strangely under those circumstances,” he said. “Something about being on Middleton’s campus reignites” the characters.
“The location was central to the story,” he continued. “Like in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ when they all go into the magical forest and start acting crazy; that’s what happens when these parents arrive on this beautiful campus. The parents start acting like kids, and the kids act like parents.”
Although Rodgers and Libowitz grew up in Baltimore, they didn’t meet until they were at NYU.
“Adam wrote and directed a film while he was there, and I auditioned and got the lead,” said Libowitz. The film, which was a finalist for the top directing prize at the university, was about Rodger’s beloved Baltimore-bred grandmother, Dorothy Ellison, now 94 and living in Pikesville.
“When you’re a nice Jewish boy from Baltimore who wants to be a filmmaker, you get some funny looks. But my grandmother was always supportive,” said Rodgers.
In the years that followed their studies at NYU, Libowitz, Rodgers and German worked together on various projects. Rodgers and German had success selling their scripts and pitches to Sony, Universal and Fox studios, and Libowitz enjoyed an illustrious career in production, writing and acting. Yet, the three friends were anxious to get back to film-making.
In 2009, Libowitz and Rodgers made a short film, “The Response.” Written by Libowitz and directed by Rodgers, the courtroom drama is based upon transcripts of the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals. Among other honors, the film was shortlisted for the 2010 Academy Award for best short film in the live action category.
Libowitz, Rodgers and German’s success, experiences and Hollywood connections paid off when they set out to make “At Middleton.”
“When you make an indie film, it’s very collaborative but really begins with the characters,” said Rodgers. “What really drives a movie being made is who’s in it. Andy [Garcia] and Vera [Farmiga] wanted good parts and wanted the opportunity to play light, funny roles. Once they were on board, we had a package.”
The fact that Garcia helped to produce the film was also “instrumental in a lot of pieces coming together,” said Libowitz.
“At Middleton” premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival in May 2013, and has been on the film festival circuit since then.
“It’s been so wonderful to see it with an audience,” said Libowitz. “There’s so much laughter.”
Originally slated to open for only a limited run, the film’s popularity at festivals has convinced distributors to show it at 20 theaters around the country, said Rodgers. On Jan. 31, it will open in select theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Baltimore. The two Baltimore natives are especially excited about the film’s Baltimore screening, which will take place at the Rotunda Cinemas on W. 40th Street.
“It’s like having a second bar mitzvah without having to learn the Torah portion,” said Libowitz with a smile.
Rodgers and Libowitz, who said they are anxious to make more films in Maryland, are only slightly concerned about the fact that the film opens in Baltimore on Super Bowl weekend.
“Every Jewish woman in Pikesville needs to come see “At Middleton,’” said Rodgers. “In exchange, husbands have a pass to watch all the pre- and post-Super Bowl coverage they like. You can’t beat that deal, right?”