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Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate films what she knows

Mary Pickels
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Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Natalia Kaniasty, an IUP graduate and NYU film student, is photographed at Benamati's Creekside Convenience located in Creekside on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. Kaniasty shot a film, primarily in her hometown of Indiana, Pa., which was inspired by “The Deer Hunter,” and focuses on a soldier returning home to Western Pa. from Afghanistan.

Write what you know.

It's common advice for authors, but Natalia Kaniasty put her own spin on it — writing about where she's from and about whom she knows.

The 2008 graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and New York University filmmaking student shot a short film, her pre-thesis project, last fall in her hometown of Indiana.

“Home Range” tells the story of fictional character Bobby Novak, portrayed by IUP Class of 2005 grad Brett Mack.

“He's a high school friend and professional actor and acting coach,” she said.

Standing outside Benamati Creekside Convenience store recently, Kaniasty recalled a pivotal scene she filmed there in November.

“It's something that doesn't happen around here very often. I'd like to see it (film). The (cast and crew) were all good. They came in here to get warm,” said store owner Bob Benamati.

The film focuses on the struggle of a young soldier returning home after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kaniasty, 29, hopes the short movie will “honor” veterans and draw attention to the troops' ongoing needs as they return home.

She said she received good feedback after class screenings for showing Western Pennsylvania authentically.

“One of my professors said, ‘It seems like you know places like the back of your hand.' I said, ‘Well, it's home,' ” she said.

In addition to Benamati's, local shoots took place at the Rose Inn and in the communities of Clymer and Ernest.

The 15-minute film is in homage to the 1978 “The Deer Hunter,” which depicted the struggles several Vietnam War-era soldiers faced when the war ended.

“But it's a very different film. I think a lot of the issues raised in that film in the 1970s are still relevant today when talking about veterans' affairs and people returning from war. There are issues we still need to work on. It was important to me to give those people a voice. One of my closest cousins is a veteran of the Iraq War,” she said.

“It's really about empathy and putting oneself in the shoes of my main character, Bobby. … I guess what I want audiences to be left with at the end is hope. It's important to me to show someone who might be suffering from trauma, but who is resilient,” Kaniasty said.

Hunting represents a means of getting Bobby back into the routine of civilian life.

“You might wonder how a veteran suffering from trauma could go and hold a rifle, but it's more about being back in nature, (doing) something (he) had done for years, since he was a boy,” she said.

Her parents, Krzysztof Kaniasty, IUP psychology professor, and Aleksandra Kaniasty, IUP assistant dean of natural science and mathematics, hosted cast and crew members for the seven-day shoot.

Her cousin, Malgosia Mikula, ran an Indiegogo.com campaign, which raised $10,000 to help pay for film, costumes, and travel costs for cast and crew, who worked for free.

Kaniasty recently returned to NYU, where she is pursuing a master of fine arts through the university's Tisch School of the Arts. The film is in post-production, and she is submitting it to U.S. and international film festivals.

She plans to host a screening for friends and supporters on Oct. 25 at the Indiana Theater.

“What I like about directing is you sort of have the entire vision in your mind and in your heart. It's a very collaborative position, but at the same time you are captain of a ship,” Kaniasty said.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or [email protected].

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