MANCHESTER — Ritchie Farrell was a recovering heroin addict from Lowell, Mass. who wrote an HBO film and appeared in the Oscar-winning film “The Fighter,” which was based on local boxing legend Micky Ward and his addicted brother, Dicky Eklund.
When Farrell moved back east from Los Angeles 18 months ago, he became a teacher at the Kreiva Academy, an inner-city Manchester charter school and he wanted students to see for themselves the power of filmmaking.
Enter “Romeo and Juliet: A Cautionary Tale,” a seven-minute film written and acted by 10 students in Farrell’s class that has its first public showing Monday night on the campus of Southern New Hampshire University.
The film is a modern-day take on the Shakespearean tragedy, a circa-2018 love story torn asunder by the Queen City’s opioid epidemic featuring a Bedford basketball star and a Manchester teen from the wrong side of the tracks.
“I have done stuff at Emerson College and out in L.A. but this was really special for me. For the first time up at the plate and with their limited knowledge they just really knocked it out of the park,” Farrell said Friday during an interview. “For a short film it plays unbelievable.”
Farrell, who now lives in Milford, recalled sitting in a gym more than a year ago watching his 13-year-old son play basketball for a Manchester AAU team when the founders of Kreiva Academy first approached.
They sold him on teaching at the public charter school that specializes in expeditionary learning for sixth- through 12th-graders.
“One thing led to another. In some cases these kids came from the edge of a universe, some from broken homes but they were all so full of promise and inspiring,” Farrell said.
“We read Romeo and Juliet. I taught them how to write a play and they just took off and ran with it.”
Manchester filmmaker Rick Berry of LA Berry Production said his chat at a friend’s birthday party soon turned into a meeting with Farrell where he embraced the vision of shooting this film.
Most scenes were shot on the grounds of Kreiva Academy at 470 Pine St. and the entire project was done on a single day last fall, Berry said.
“I got to the school. We quickly ran through the script and within five hours we wrapped up shooting. It’s kind of a guerrilla style where I don’t have total control and as much time as I often do as on other projects,” Berry recalled.
“But I think what they did had some real impact. The kids were amazing. They wrote it, rehearsed it; they had their roles down cold.”
Berry would later learn after filming that he had previously met the star student who played Juliet, Emily Walker, 13.
“My wife (Francesca La Rosa-Berry) worked at Michael’s and she would teach these crafting classes that Emily would attend. She even came to my daughter’s birthday party,” Berry said. “The coolest part was she was the understudy for the part. She ended up starring and totally nailed it.”
Romeo is played by Michael McCall Jr., 16, and his basketball-playing pals in the film are Ryan LaPointe and Nizar Abbari.
The film was written and directed by Christina Iannuzzi and Arlo Perez.
Berry said he gave Perez a crash course in videography and said some of the film’s memorable footage came from the student shooter.
“It’s always a different experience working with kids. They were so motivated by Ritchie to do this and embraced it,” said Berry, a U.S. Army veteran who does media work for the U.S. Air Force. “It was a very collaborative effort.”
Farrell also credited school Director of Operations Tal Bayer with providing the music to score the film with assistance from Brady MeGee, another Kreiva Academy teacher.
The public showing for the movie will be 5:30 p.m. at the SNHU Main Campus Dining Hall after which students will take questions followed by remarks from three city leaders in the recovery movement: Amy Cloutier, Jasmine Lamontagne and Pat Cronin.
Ex-Manchester police chief and state “drug czar” David Mara will close the event with a keynote address.
The film opens with audio of President Donald Trump speaking about the opioid crisis in the state and ends with this quote from Shakespeare’s play, ‘As You Like It’ with the film’s unique identifier of “Lady Heroin.”
“I pray you. Do not fall in love with me for I am falser than vows made in wine,” it reads.