August 18 – 24, 2017Vol. 19, No. 11

In the Lunar Penumbra: Local Actress to Star in Eclipse-Inspired Film

Elissa Piszel, Alvin Case, and Debra Lord Cooke.

by Gregor Smith

On Monday, August 21, much of the continental United States will be treated to a rare celestial spectacle, an eclipse of the sun. Although total solar eclipses are not that uncommon — there's one somewhere on the earth every 18 months or so — it's been 99 years since such an eclipse was visible from coast to coast in the United States. This singular event thus provides both the inspiration and the setting for a new motion picture, which will star local actress Debra Lord ("Dee") Cooke and which will be shot partly in Belgrade.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon is perfectly positioned between the earth and the sun. The eclipse will be total in a band 70 miles wide stretching from Oregon to South Carolina. Most of the rest of the continental United States will see a partial solar eclipse. In Belgrade Lakes Village, the eclipse will start at 1:30 p.m., will peak at 2:45 with 56% of the sun obscured, and will end at 3:55.

More important here, however, than the details of when, where, and how the eclipse will occur will be its ability to awe and inspire, as total solar eclipses have for ages, such that not only astronomers, but also ordinary citizens will make pilgrimages to view it, traveling great distances to the places where totality will last the longest and the likelihood of good weather will be the greatest.

Such is the crux of the story of In the Moon's Shadow, a new screenplay that will be shot in Belgrade and in Nebraska. Cooke will portray hard-charging, workaholic, fifty-something Lisa, who comes to the Belgrade home of her younger, more laid back, but recently widowed sister, Karen. The two sisters have long been estranged, but they decide to take a road trip to Nebraska to view the eclipse and try to work out their differences.

Cooke lives in Belgrade and has appeared in various television series, including soap operas Guiding Light and As The World Turns; in various feature films, including Time and Charges and The Congressman, which were shown at the Maine International Film Festival in 2013 and 2015, respectively; and in local community theater productions at the Waterville Opera House, for Aqua City Actors Theatre in Waterville, for Gaslight Theater in Hallowell, and at Lakewood in Madison.

She met her co-star, Elissa Piszel ("Karen"), when both were working on Woody Allen's Café Society. Piszel refers to herself as a "bi coastal actress," having appeared on stage in New York City both on and off Broadway and in Los Angeles in various television shows, including Quantico and Law and Order: SVU. Most recently, she wrote, produced, and starred in "Ellie's Perk," a humorous, 13-minute short about the lead character's obsession with coffee — a film in which Cooke also appeared.

The director will be Alvin Case, for whom Cooke played the lead in Analogue, completed, but not-yet-released film, which, according to Case's website, "combines domestic melodrama, classical music, and science fiction in a tale about a former prodigy haunted by the death of a student during his experimentation with aural portraits, sound recordings using the electrical impulses of the human body." The Boston-based director and producer has been making movies since the 1980s. His previous feature-length films include fictional films Sun Opener (2014) and The Whirlpool (2012) and a documentary, The Secret Universe Of Paul Laffoley (2017).

The script was written by Alvin Case's brother Edward, whom the film's promotional materials describe as "a nuclear physicist by day, screenwriter by night." On January 2, after reading about the eclipse, Alvin Case asked his brother to write the screenplay. Edward Case completed the first draft in only eleven days. Including In the Moon's Shadow, Edward Case has written or co-authored 36 screenplays, several of which Alvin Case has directed.

As often happens when a film approaches the start of shooting, the script of In The Moon's Shadow has undergone substantial revisions in the past two months. Those who attended a staged reading of the script at Belgrade's Center for All Seasons on July 2 may remember the sisters' father, who appeared at the end of the story. That character is now gone, but the younger sister now has a step-daughter. That role will be played by Jules Hartley, a Los Angeles-based actress who has appeared on Black-ish, Law and Order: SVU, and The Young and the Restless.

Actual production of the film will begin with three days of shooting, August 19-21, in Nebraska, where the eclipse will be total and the sky is expected to be clear. In an email, Cooke wrote, "We absolutely need to shoot the eclipse. We looked at sending a crew to just get the footage of the eclipse and we'd fudge the scenes — but we felt intimately that we needed to experience the event and include the event for real in the scene. That's always been the major point. Sharing a once in a lifetime experience. . . . " The cast and crew will come to Belgrade in September to shoot the remaining three-quarters of the picture.

Although like most independent films, In the Moon's Shadow is being shot on an "ultra-low budget," the filmmakers still need to raise more money to complete the project. Donations of any size are welcome. For more information, one can visit Cooke's website,