“Respect for the land teaches respect for your fellow man, a sense of belonging, and more importantly, respect for oneself.” – adage from Camp Tamakwa
I was blessed to have a childhood that allowed me to immerse myself in the beauty of Mother Nature. In addition to a few stints of sleepaway camp, I spent every summer of my childhood at the family lake house in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. I had some of the best times of my life on Paradox Lake. You can definitely say I felt a certain sense of belonging.
Mother Nature is a constant in everybody’s rapidly changing lives. You grow older, but everything else stays the same. I’ve been going back to Paradox Lake every year for 30+ years now and very little has changed. The lake is as beautiful as it ever was. The trees remain tall and proud. The stars haven’t changed position. The neighboring cabins hold steady.
In Indian Summer, a modestly budgeted comedy-drama written and directed by Mike Binder, a group of thirtysomethings return to their childhood camp for the first time since they were kids. When Brad Berman (played by the great Kevin Pollak) steps foot onto the grounds of Camp Tamakwa again, everything seems so small to him. “It’s tiny! I can’t believe how tiny this place is!” Of course, nothing has changed. The camp stayed the exactly the same. Brad Berman had grown up.
It’s amazing how perspectives change, isn’t it?
First, can I just say how much I adore this film? Budgeted at $9 million and grossing only $15 million, it’s not exactly a hit. It has a measly 6.2 rating on IMDb and a borderline rotten score of 65%. And yet… and yet when I speak to people who have seen the film, they embrace it as warmly as I do. Does it speak to people in ways only few would understand? Does it speak a private language? Perhaps if you’ve never been to camp as a child, you wouldn’t “get it?” Nah, I highly doubt all of that. Indian Summer is about, among other things, rekindling fires from your past. Everyone has a past. Everyone had relationships and dilemmas and memorable incidents from when they were growing up. Now, after a long absence, imagine being implanted back to the place where all of that happened, alongside the same folks you grew up with. Imagine feeling these fires light up again inside you.
“But I’ll tell ya one thing: if you hit it right, it’s one hell of a life.” – Unca Lou
Think of Indian Summer as a lighter, less angsty version of The Big Chill. It’s a warm, gentle film that features 7 adults who are invited back to Camp Tamakwa for a week-long reunion. Their former camp director, Unca Lou (Alan Arkin, wise and brilliant as ever), wants to see the old gang together before he closes the camp for good. Those kids represented the golden age of the campground; it was a time when everything made sense. Beth Warden (Diane Lane) is a recent widow. Her late husband used to be best friends with Jack Belston (Bill Paxton), a hippie musician who was once kicked out of camp. Jamie Ross (Matt Craven) is a millionaire who brought along his 21-year-old fiancé (Kimberly Williams). Matthew and Kelly Berman (Vincent Spano and Julie Warner) are married with kids and are going through a rough patch. Matt’s former camp flame (and Kelly’s old friend) Jennifer Morton (Elizabeth Perkins) is a bit of a self-obsessed wanderer. And Matt’s brother Brad (Pollak) runs their successful business. Unca Lou’s right hand man, Stick Coder (a delightfully kooky Sam Raimi), helps keep the camp up and running.
During this reunion, there are laughs, fights, sex (“Just try not to kill any wild animals in process”), races, boxing matches (“The kids are fine. I told them that mommy beat the shit out me today”), midnight kitchen raids (“No shit, the munchies! I forgot all about the munchies!”), practical jokes (“Reverse shreck!”) and good old-fashioned moose watching (“There’s nothing like a good moose”).
The cast is aces all around. This ensemble bounces off one another just beautifully. Alan Arkin is perfect as the patriarch of the campground. We already know Arkin can deftly handle comedy and drama in a single scene, and there are several moments in Indian Summer where he gets the balancing act just right. Diane Lane, an actress of the 80′s, is resplendant here as Beth. You can tell she has grown considerably as an actress throughout the 90′s and the ‘aughts. Kevin Pollak and Bill Paxton are two remarkable character actors today, steadily working in television and film. You can never go wrong with these guys. Matt Craven and Elizabeth Perkins have kept a lower profile in recent years, but still pop up in bit parts on the tube and big screen. The adorable Kimberly Williams (now Williams-Paisley) also kept busy on television (does anyone else melt a little when Father of the Bride comes on TV?). The two stars we barely see these days are Julie Warner and Vincent Spano. It’s a shame; they appeared in so many strong films of the 80′s and 90′s, and are very appealing performers. And Sam Raimi! Whatever happened to that dude?
Indian Summer is filmed on location at the actual Camp Tamakwa campground, based in Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park. The sights are breathtaking. As lensed by veteran cinematographer, Newton Thomas Sigel (who later went on to shoot all of Bryan Singer’s films), the colors are bathed in warm sunlight and vivid greens. You can practically feel the nighttime chills and the warm lakeside breeze. Binder attended Tamakwa back in the late 60′s-early 70′s, and this film is a tribute to a place where he proudly came of age. Incidentally, Sam Raimi also attended the camp, as well as famous comedians Gilda Radnor and Chevy Chase. The film may be fictional, but there’s a lot of facts and nods sprinkled throughout. “Unca” Lou Handler is actually one of the founding directors of Camp Tamakwa, and when he passed on, some of the former students carried on the responsibility of taking over the camp. That’s only one of several true-life tales that Binder has incorporated in the film.
Indian Summer is clearly Mike Binder’s love letter to his childhood. It’s mighty generous of him to allow us to go along for the ride down memory lane.