When Rob Tregenza and Kirk Kjeldsen, filmmakers and Virginia Commonwealth University cinema professors, submitted their feature “Gavagai” to the top international film festivals, they were disappointed to be turned down. Tregenza’s first two films, “Talking to Strangers” and “The Arc,” had premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival and his third, “Inside/Out,” had first appeared at the Cannes Film Festival. However, the film industry had changed in the years since the 1997 release of “Inside/Out,” and the largest festivals had become less likely to select independent films and more likely to latch onto more high-profile movies with boldfaced names attached. “Gavagai,” which was shot in Norway, starred three accomplished performers with acclaimed roles to their credit and each of Tregenza’s three previous films had been praised by critics, but the film lacked box-office cachet.
“Gavagai” eventually was selected to premiere at the Maine International Film Festival, but Tregenza and Kjeldsen worried about finding a distributor and getting their film — one they were proud of — in front of audiences. Then Richard Brody, an influential film critic for The New Yorker, learned through Twitter that Tregenza had a new film completed. Brody had written admirably of Tregenza’s previous works, and he asked to see “Gavagai.” Tregenza and Kjeldsen hoped for a short, positive write-up that might give the film a boost.
An editor sent Kjeldsen a link when the review was posted. As soon as he read it, Kjeldsen, who lives in Germany and teaches online much of the year, knew Tregenza needed to hear it. They connected over Skype and Kjeldsen read it aloud to Tregenza. Together, they savored every word.