Filming planned in Amherst, Pelham for Emily Dickinson biopic ‘A Quiet Passion’ starring Cynthia Nixon, Keith Carradine

Last modified: Thursday, June 11, 2015
AMHERST — With location shooting scheduled in Amherst and Pelham next week, the Emily Dickinson Museum and Wildwood Cemetery are set to star along with “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon in a feature film about the life of the reclusive 19th-century poet.

The bulk of the Emily Dickinson biopic “A Quiet Passion,” written and directed by filmmaker Terence Davies, has been shot over the past month in Belgium, where a set — including a replica of the interior of Dickinson’s home — was built on a soundstage.

But Oliver Amerigian, the location manager for the movie, told the Select Board this week that crews are coming to Amherst “to get shots that look Amherst-esque that they can’t get in Belgium.”

The film stars “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson and Keith Carradine as her father, Edward Dickinson. Other cast members include Jennifer Ehle, Emma Bell and Rose Williams.

Local filming locations will include the Dickinson Homestead and its grounds at 280 Main St. and portions of the Wildwood Cemetery at 70 Strong St.

“It’s exciting,” Jane Wald, executive director of the Emily Dickinson Museum, said Wednesday night. “Any film in our little town is exciting, and this one hits particularly close to my own interests.”

Wald said Dickinson — whom she described as “a fascinating, mysterious individual who still changes people’s lives” — is a deserving subject of the film. “It’s a sign of her soaring reputation that serious filmmakers are taking a look at her life.

“Emily Dickinson deserves it,” Wald added. “There is some irony in a film to be seen by hundreds of thousands of people about such a reclusive individual, but in the end she knew that the quality of her poetry was going to make it into the public venue.”

Wald said she expects “A Quiet Passion” will introduce Dickinson to some people who are not familiar with her work, and may raise the profile of the museum by attracting first-time visitors and, perhaps, financial donors.

While there have been some shorter documentaries previously involving the museum, this will be its first appearance in a feature-length film, as far as Wald knows. None of the museum staff will be directly involved with next week’s filming, said Wald, who has been executive director for nine years and worked there for a total of 14 years.

The museum will be closed Monday through Wednesday while the filmmakers are in town.

Other locations

Wildwood Cemetery — which is secluded, wooded and has gravel roads through the graveyard — is not where Emily Dickinson and her family are buried. But using the Dickinson family’s actual burial grounds at West Cemetery would have been too challenging because of nearby buildings, overhead wires and traffic, Amerigian said.

The film crew will also head to Pelham to shoot footage of buildings that reflect a 19th-century landscape, including the Pelham Historical Society Museum and Historical Complex at 376 Amherst Road.

During the Amherst filming, Main Street in front of the museum will be periodically closed to through traffic Monday through Wednesday, and the 22 parking spaces on Main Street between Lessey and Triangle streets will be unavailable.

Amerigian said he is not sure how often the crew will need to close Main Street. But, as horses and carriages travel along the road, some traffic control will be necessary.

Police Chief Scott Livingstone said in an email that his department is ready to assist with officers stationed at Triangle Street and Lessey Street. The production company will pay for the officers.

“They have contracted for a couple of detail officers next week and will be stopping and/or detouring traffic as needed for filming,” Livingstone said.

Amerigian said the production company will pay the town $5 per day for each the 22 parking spaces that will be off-limits to the public during the filming. The Select Board unanimously approved the request to allow the film crew to have exclusive use of the spaces from Monday to Wednesday.

The production company will bring numerous vehicles and other equipment to town, including a 65-foot grip and electric tractor-trailer, two 65-foot actor campers with three rooms in each, two 15-passenger vans for cast and crew transportation and 40 personal cast and crew vehicles.

Most of the vehicles will be stored at the Hills Lot at Amherst College, off College Street, Amerigian said. Town Manager John Musante said his preference is to have none of the vehicles associated with the film parked on Main Street overnight.

Livingstone said handling this film shoot will be easier than when production of the film “Malice” came to Amherst and Northampton in October 1992. Amherst police had to deal with both traffic issues and security for the cast, including Alec Baldwin and Nicole Kidman, and Castle Rock Entertainment hired 12 to 16 officers.

Livingstone said the bigger names in that cast presented more of a challenge.

“The film stars were more popular,” Livingstone said. “Nicole Kidman, Bill Pullman — and Tom Cruise was in town for a week as he was dating Nicole at the time, so they hired officers for security as well.”

Police set up an elaborate, two-day detour through the center of town during the shoot.

“Malice” filmmakers also used the Town Common and the Lord Jeffery Inn as filming locations, requiring the closing of the Spring Street parking lot.

Amherst and the Lord Jeffery Inn were also used for nearly two weeks as the filming site for the television movie “Silent Night, Lonely Night” in the late 1960s.

Staff Writer Stanley Moulton contributed to this story. Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.