Award-Winning Director James Steven Sadwith Chats About His J.D. Salinger Feature Before St. Louis International Film Festival Debut
In his feature debut “Coming Through the Rye,” Emmy-award-winning director James Steven Sadwith turns back the clock to explore the magnetic appeal of reclusive author J.D. Salinger (played by a raven-browed Chris Cooper). Based on Sadwith’s own teenage sojourn from his repressive boarding school in 1969 to the iconic author’s New Hampshire haunts, this filmic bildungsroman follows sixteen-year-old Jamie Schwartz (Alex Wolff) in his quest to adapt Catcher in the Rye into a theatrical performance. A film that has delighted viewers of all ages, “Coming Through the Rye” opens this month in select cities throughout the country, and is featured at the St. Louis International Film Festival on November 6. ALIVE had the opportunity to chat with the filmmaker prior to the film’s national release.
What were the challenges of filming a movie based on your own personal experience? How did you go about jogging your own memory of trying to find J.D. Salinger?
Jogging my memory was actually pretty easy because after I met Salinger, when I went back to school, I tape-recorded everybody I’d met along the way —what Salinger said and what I said—I had about a ten to fifteen minute tape just hours after it all just happened. I still have that recording, and over the years I’d written a bunch of essay and articles about it. So it didn’t need a lot of refreshing. It was all right there.
But what about the script itself, which you also wrote?
Writing a script based on my own story—that was more of a challenge. I don’t see myself as an especially strong protagonist. In this case, I think that was always a stumbling block. So I had to come up with this other persona a whole lot like me, but who wasn’t me. I had to incorporate some additional elements that would allow me to move forward.
Interview continues below.
Is the central character, Jamie Schwartz, much different than you were as a youth?
Well, his backstory is different, for one. And Jamie is more noble than me, ultimately. He makes more moral choices, though he’s no goody-two-shoes. But all the things that happen to him as far as Salinger also happened to me.
The film was set 46 years ago and is nostalgic in a way, but also exposes how terrifying it was to be a young person at the time.
Yes. Of course, Jamie is exposed to psychic danger at his school—not mortal danger in Vietnam. But for the war to be in the background of the film was important—it was always there at the time. Just by having that present, audiences know what it means—especially Baby Boomers. Vietnam brings back this sense of danger and insecurity for young people at the time.
In terms of its other themes, though, it seems like “Coming through the Rye” could just as easily be set today, instead of 1969.
You’re the third person who has recently said that the film feels timeless—that it’s not a period piece. I love hearing that. And I think it’s true.
“Coming Through the Rye” is playing during the St. Louis International Film Festival at 12:30pm Sunday, Nov. 6, at the Tivoli Theatre, 6350 Delmar Blvd. Purchase tickets here.