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Curiously, what inspired writer-director Larry Reavis—whose first feature, Prisoners of the Heart, is booked for a two-week run at the Cineplex Odeon Foundry in Georgetown—to start making movies was not a film but a book: Dominique Lapierre’s novel about finding redemption in Calcutta, The City of Joy. “Fifteen years ago, a good friend of mine in New York, who’d been in the Peace Corps with me, brought down this book, and in reading it—even though I’d never thought about doing this before—I decided it would make a wonderful film,” explains Reavis, who lives in Silver Spring and works as an investigator for the International Trade Commission. “So I wrote a screenplay of it in my spare time and sent it to the author.”

Lapierre, as Reavis tells it, loved the treatment but had already sold the novel’s rights to a London-based production company—the same outfit, in fact, that had produced Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi. Only a little disheartened by this first brush with the industry, Reavis spent the next several years writing and trying to peddle original scripts, finally deciding in 1990 that, rather than waiting for his big break, he would start financing and making movies himself. “I found, about that time, a program at Montgomery Community Television that allowed you to take a three-month producer and technician course, which, if completed successfully, would allow you to use their equipment to produce whatever you wanted,” Reavis remembers. “Of course, I started out not doing features. I started small—short subjects and featurettes.”

Reavis incorporated three of his early efforts—Angels in Chinatown (in which a man is kidnapped by the titular celestial beings), Forever Yours (in which a chest of love letters is discovered and old lovers’ wounds are reopened), and An Open Letter From a Dying House (a crumbling farmhouse’s stream-of-consciousness death rattle)—into Prisoners of the Heart. The full-length video, a continuity nightmare shot on weekends over a year, is a sort of spiritual, quasi-autobiographical sequel to Angels. In Prisoners, as the mostly amateur cast of Angels gathers for a reunion, one of the actors goes on “an introspective journey into herself,” exploring her feelings of unrequited love for the Angels director. Needless to say, with its extended flashbacks, unhurried pace, nonlinear story, long interior monologues, and minuscule budget (just over $2,000), Prisoners of the Heart isn’t standard Hollywood fare—which is fine by Reavis. “To be honest, I’ve never considered myself a filmmaker, a writer, a producer,” Reavis insists. “I’m just a human being who has found this medium convenient to get a message of self-examination across.”

Lofty ideals aside, making movies is mostly grunt work, sometimes grueling and often mundane. Once filming was completed, Reavis spent an additional year editing. Then, after finding a venue (Cineplex Odeon stepped in when the Key theater closed down), he, frustratingly, had to teach himself marketing (at an early press screening, only a handful of reviewers attended). The entire process has been difficult, Reavis says, but also immensely satisfying. “There are many aspects of filmmaking that are not fun—so far it’s eluded me—but one way or the other, on my deathbed I want to be able to say that I’ve gotten the best out of myself,” says Reavis, who hopes to make another feature, about a man trying to get his groove back after his marriage collapses. “And now, after this, I can honestly say that I’ve worked to capacity; I’ve done the most with myself. And—so long as I keep getting the most out of myself—I’ll continue pursuing it. I’ll keep making films.”—Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa