PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In “The Passing Season,” premiering Wednesday at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, a 28-year-old minor-league hockey player with major league dreams gets cut from his team and returns to his hometown in coastal Rhode Island.
The lead character, Sam Alden, played by Tony nominee Brian J. Smith, returns to the fictional town of “Jamesport” to try to recapture a time he remembers as simpler and more exciting. Perhaps it goes without saying that things don’t turn out as he had hoped — and that’s precisely the point.
In life, “you don’t always get that inspiring Hollywood ending,” said the film’s director, Gabriel “Gabe” Long.
In his debut short film, the 30-year-old director, who grew up in Little Compton, set out to explore the “moment of reckoning” when we realize that, despite all our best efforts, life doesn’t always work out as planned.
“How do you maintain a sense of yourself when the thing your whole identity is tied to falls away?” Long said, seated on a bench Friday in Prospect Terrace Park in Providence, where the final scene was filmed. “Identity is kind of the thing I’m obsessed with … What story do we tell to ourselves about ourselves?”
The film is not, he said, about his own life, nor is the Sam Alden character based on him. Yet he doesn’t deny the parallels.
Both he and the film’s lead character left Rhode Island to pursue their careers, and both gave up the dream of playing professional hockey. And in a twist of life imitating art, Long, like his film’s lead, is moving back to Rhode Island.
The only child of Nicholas T. Long, a lawyer, and Abigail Brooks, president of the Sakonnet Preservation Association, Long grew up riding bikes and playing sports.
The way he tells it, sheer determination and hard work, not any exceptional athletic talent, propelled him from the bench to become captain of his high school hockey team at Moses Brown.
After high school, he spent a year on a junior league hockey team traveling in hopes of being recruited for a college team.
“I spent a lot of time on the bench,” he said. “I was starting to realize I wasn’t good enough” to excel professionally. It was his reckoning.
Long went on to study at Cornell University, his father’s alma mater, where he fell in love with filmmaking. After graduating in 2009, he moved to Brooklyn and worked a series of jobs — soda jerk, bartender, museum tour guide, camera rental clerk — while doing freelance film editing and producing TV ads. He also wrote his own film scripts.
To make his film, “The Drawing,” he rode 45 minutes on a train to a friend’s house to borrow his computer to edit the film because couldn’t afford to buy his own. He supported himself by tending bar at night. That’s when he met his future wife, who was working as a talent manager.
In the fall of 2014, Long and his colleagues launched a online kickstarter campaign to raise the $32,000 they needed to make the film. His parents, he said, pitched in with their own fundraisers. They raised the money and he put in another $2,000 of his own, he said.
Last June, Long and his crew spent 15 days in Rhode Island shooting the film. The schedule was incredibly tight, he said, because they had no money to pay the actors overtime.
The final scene was supposed to be shot in front of the Small Point Café on Westminster Street. But when they arrived for the shoot on a Thursday at about 3 p.m., he said, the place was packed. Suffice it to say the scene is emotional (no spoilers here!), so after three unsuccessful takes interrupted by pedestrians waving at the cameras, Long decided to pack it up and move to another location. He recalled a conversation he’d had with his father the previous morning, who’d suggested Prospect Terrace Park as a good lunch spot. So they headed to the park.
“It was very different than the ending I had in mind,” Long said.
He’d envisioned people passing by in the background, going on with their lives. In the park, he said, the characters appear more isolated.
“You never know how people are going to react,” he said. “To me, filmmaking is very much about communication with an audience. I’m just hopeful that some people do find a connection with it, that it speaks to them in some way.”
During the filming, Long said, he and his wife, Rebecca Atwood, who is the film’s producer, never imagined that they’d wind up moving to Providence. That, too, was one of those unplanned turns in their lives.
“My wife and I had so many nights sitting on the stoop of our brownstone” in Brooklyn, he said, “just thinking: how are we going to make enough money to live in the city and have the life that we like here?”
To live in New York “has gotten so expensive that everybody kind of has to be focused on money,” he said, which is not how they want to live their lives. They wanted a place where they could afford to buy a house and raise children. So shortly before their wedding in Tiverton last September, he said, they began considering moving to a smaller, more affordable city.
The couple recently bought a house in the West End of Providence. They move in this week.
“To have it premiere the week we move back,” he said, “feels like a homecoming.”
On Twitter: @LynnArditi