Grand Rapids native brings award-winning film home

Lauren McGough with her Eagle Miles. Courtesy Elisabeth James

Elisabeth Haviland James is sharing her latest documentary with West Michigan. 

“Overland,” an independent film, will show at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 29, at Celebration Cinema North, 2121 Celebration Drive NE. 

The film tells the stories of falconers Khalifa Bin Mujren, Lauren McGough and Giovanni Granati. James will attend the screening at Celebration North and will engage with the audience in a Q&A after the film. 

“Overland” was directed by James and her husband and collaborator Revere La Noue. The documentary took them six years to film, spanning the wilderness on four continents and seven countries: Italy, Scotland, South Africa, Azerbaijan, Mongolia, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. in Oklahoma and Kansas.

“We use the words epic, intimate and textured to describe our approach to the storytelling in the movie,” James said. “To be able to see it on a big screen with surround sound in the community elevates the experience so much for the audience. Due to the pandemic, we’ve only been able to do that a handful of times, which is another reason this screening means so much to me. ‘Overland’ has played at and won awards at film festivals around the world, but to bring it home is really exciting.” 

Giovanni Granati. Courtesy Anamaria Draghici and Paolo Marchegiani

The film’s story of the ancient art of falconry won Best Documentary at Breckenridge Film Festival and Ferrara Film Festival in Italy and was a finalist for the category at the Whistler Film Festival in Canada. It also won Best Cinematography at Estonia’s Matsalu Nature Film Festival and the Worlds At Risk award at Thin Line Film Festival. 

“My love of animals and respect for the wild was seeded during my childhood on the Thornapple River, where I was able to see and understand the life-cycle of so many creatures,” James said. “It is a connection we are in danger of losing, and the film brings it front and center.”

James, a 1995 graduate of Forest Hills Central High School, said she is excited to be bringing her work back to her hometown. She credits her Grand Rapids upbringing as an inspiration in her film career. 

“It was actually a teacher at FHC (Forest Hills Central), Ann Layton, since retired, who nurtured my interest in storytelling and filmmaking,” James said. “She was a mentor of mine then and continues to be now, so it is extra special for me to be able to share the film with an audience that will include her.”

After graduating from the M.A. program in documentary film and video at Stanford University, James went on to build a prolific career in documentary filmmaking.

She co-produced “The Loving Story” (directed by Nancy Buirski) with HBO in 2011, for which James was short-listed for the Academy Award, won a George Foster Peabody Award, an Emmy Award (Best Historic Program) and was nominated for two additional Emmy Awards (Best Documentary, Best Editing). 

“The Loving Story” went on to form the basis of the 2016 film “Loving,” starring Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga. 

James’ writing, editing and directing credits also include “Tales of the American South,” the third and fourth seasons of PBS series “A Craftsman’s Legacy,” documentary film ”Althea,” “Exposing Muybridge” and “’In So Many Words.” She also is the editor of the third episode of Apple TV+’s  “Lincoln’s Dilemma,” which launched in February. 

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