01/11/2012 09:34 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Sundance Diaries: The Old House Stands Empty

It's three days before Christmas when we arrive. I've been driving since Cincinnati, which is hours from here. My twin brother, Barry, sits next to me having suddenly gone quiet. Of the two of us, he's the one who's been, literally, down this road before.
"It's that one," he says, pointing up ahead.
As we approach, he cranes his neck this way and that, seeking a better view. I roll the wheel, pulling to the curb, while behind me, among a pile of tangled bags and wrapped presents, my girlfriend removes the studio headphones that have shielded her from our road-trip bickering and sits up.
"This is it?"
I recognize the exterior of my mother's new home from the hazy, unflattering image of it I'd sleuthed from Google Maps months ago, after first hearing over the phone that she and Roy, her new love, had found a place and would together be making an offer. This would mean several Big-Things, chief among them the eventual sale--now finalized--of my childhood home. Where my brother and I grew up. Where our father died early one June morning in 2006. And where, a year ago this past November, I shot my first movie--a short film called Rolling on the Floor Laughing that will screen in this year's Sundance Film Festival.
The film is 19 minutes and involves the homecoming of two grown siblings for their widowed mother's birthday in what amounts to fictionalized, though thinly veiled, autobiography. The film's drama--how the arrival of the mother's new boyfriend affects the boys--was the stuff of a new reality: our mom, having willed herself up and over grief's barricade, was now dating again and every so often bringing around men for us to meet. Eventually, as she grew more comfortable, we'd come home to one or another of them already there, waiting.
Shooting in the house fostered an unusual, familial atmosphere, of life mixing with art at each new camera set-up --as if the production had recruited cast and crew in an attempt to conjure for posterity my fondest memories of home: wasting away afternoons in its back garden, congregating happily in its kitchen, walking barefoot down its hardwood hallways. Today, the "old house"--this is what we've taken to calling it--stands empty. The movie, in its way, is the last act I ever committed at 1370 E. Chandler. We have all left it. We are all gone.
Now this manse. It's not so bad. Not as bad, anyway. I shouldn't be shocked that the house is different than it appeared on my Mac, though I am slightly reeling. The uncommonly mild temperature mixes with the circumstance to make the holidays feel distant, as if they're happening somewhere else and to other people. The feeling is one I recognize from the first Christmas after Dad died, when the rest of us gathered in New York pretending adventure in the wake of grief. That was 5 years ago now. Doesn't seem so long. Five years. Enough time to make new lives, though swift enough to find those lives shockingly, surprisingly ours. Look at us. Look how we've grown. Look at that house.
With Sundance fast approaching, I thought perhaps this blog could survey the inspirations, both personal and cinematic, for the movie I made and also detail the more specific considerations that went into making it. If you feel compelled, give our trailer a look, comment below, or find us on Facebook. And check back soon for more. I'll try to keep it interesting.

WATCH a trailer for "Rolling On The Floor Laughing" below:

Rolling on the Floor Laughing - Trailer from Russell Harbaugh on Vimeo.