By Avery Wood
Locals already know the best desert spots to go when you want to get away from the action of life, but now they can see the same desert landscapes full of western themed action in Cataract Gold, directed by La Quinta resident Paul Kiener and starring Caroline DeGraeve and Morgan James of the band Pocket Yellow. The Film premieres at the Mary Pickford on January 26th and will play five times a day until February 2nd.
Cataract Gold is based on real events and tells the story of Katie and Beth Clark, played by Morgan and Caroline respectively. After being commissioned by the US Government to map the Green and Colorado rivers, Jeramiah Clark buries the gold he was paid for provisions and creates a map to its location. After his death, his daughters Katie and Beth embark on a journey to retrieve the gold but meet with resistance from other pursuants of the gold along the way, according to press releases.
The actresses starring in the film, Caroline and Morgan are both desert locals and both completely new to acting. “I… was discovered here at this very Starbucks… last April,” Caroline says. “I had just gone hiking, my hair was in disarray and I was disgruntled at my phone… the producer thought I had a good look for the role. He just walked up and said ‘Have you done any acting’ and my response was ‘I act every day of my life.’” Morgan had already been cast as Katie Clark and was in the coffee shop reading with actresses who were auditing as her sister, Beth. She watched as the director excused himself and crossed the room to talk to Caroline, explaining that while she didn’t know at the time what he was saying to her, “the girl [she] was reading with just obviously wasn’t right for [the role].” Just an hour after this meeting, Morgan received a call from the director explaining that he had spoken to Caroline about portraying Beth Clark.
Morgan was discovered in a similarly serendipitous way. “Three or four weeks before [he talked to Caroline] he said he had my head shot and resume… I went to auditions four or five years ago and just thought ‘oh, maybe I’ll try this’ but I didn’t want to drive to LA… after a few months… I didn’t want to hassle with that. He had my headshot and resume from way back then and was like, ‘You have a great look for the younger sister, I want you to come in and read for the role.’” Morgan assumed she was being offered a part as an extra but the director assured her that she would be auditioning for one of the lead roles. It was after two years and over 200 auditions, the director found Morgan and Caroline to fill the roles.
With the least experience of the entire cast, the actresses started work on the movie and learned a great deal about acting and the film industry. “It’s… a responsibility to have a lead role,” Caroline explains. “A lot of the story relies on character and how you develop it. It was a great opportunity to take acting seriously… had I been an extra… I may not have even thought of a future in it. Since then I wrote and directed my own… short film. It premiered [Wednesday, January 11] at the Idyllwild Film Festival.” Morgan, too, is currently producing a short film, adding, “We both decided we want to do this after our experience.”
After its local premier, Cataract Gold will be distributed to 1500 independent theaters nationwide. Not only that, but next month the actresses are going to Berlin, Germany for the films showing at Berlinale, a film festival and film market, to pitch to international film markets. “I want to learn, I want to connect with people… we want to be the face of Cataract Gold,” Caroline says, explaining that she is excited to be a part of the films promotion.
Both actresses think that a lot of the appeal of Cataract Gold comes from filming and premiering locally. “Everyone that’s local is going to feel attached to it because they might recognize hot spots, especially hikers or people that go out exploring” says Caroline. While part of it was filmed in Utah, where the story is set, most of it was filmed in familiar desert locations like Box Springs in Anza, Box Canyon, Borrego, Indio, Pinyon and Mountain Center.
This was also their first time working with horses, but when asked they both assured the director they could do it. Caroline took riding lessons when she was younger, but Morgan was a bit more nervous. “I was picturing myself in kindergarten on a pony,” she says. Working with the horses was the most challenging part for Morgan. “I had a really hard time with [my horse] Littledoll. I wasn’t in control. I wasn’t comfortable being in control of an animal. I was just terrified she was going to buck me off… but she didn’t.”
The most challenging part for Caroline was waiting for the perfect conditions to shoot a scene. “There’s so much that goes into it, so much thought and organization,” she says as she describes days of waiting for clouds to pass or for the sun to reach a certain point in the sky. Caroline’s favorite part was the experience she got with “exploring the character” saying, “I really liked developing Beth Clark… from the first day filming to the last day filming, I felt her take on a little bit more of a personality. I have so much fun looking at a script and imagining… who this person is.”
Morgan, on the other hand, was most excited by the new things she experienced as Katie Clark. “I got to experience riding a horse… being attacked… fighting… stabbing… shooting a gun. I’d never been in a boat on a river in the rapids and I was afraid. I thought it would be so scary but it wasn’t,” she says. She also appreciated the experience she gained with filmmaking, saying “With Cataract Gold, because it was an independent film, our director allowed us to get in on what’s going on. Our director shared with us… how he’s making the film, what the process is… so we got to learn how films are made.”
Both actresses intend to continue acting, writing and directing. Caroline both wrote and acted in her short film “Real Smile” and Morgan is currently doing the same for “Prick” which she is producing through her company Talk to the Sun Entertainment. In addition, Cataract Gold has two planned sequels and both actresses are excited to resume their roles.
Cataract Gold is distributed by American Independent Film and is the first movie produced by the company since its debut on January 1st. Morgan serves as VP of talent. Tickets to the premier can be purchased at aifworld.com or by calling (760) 262-7798. There will be two showings at 7:00 pm and 9:30 pm, with the 7:00 showing including an after party with the cast. The 9:30 showing includes a meet and greet with the cast and a swag bag.