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NMSU filmmaker’s ‘The Odd Way Home’ released throughout U.S., Canada

A New Mexico State University filmmaker has landed a distribution deal for his latest feature-length film.

Rajeev Nirmalakhandan’s “The Odd Way Home” premiered at the Austin Film Festival October 25. Nirmalakhandan called the event a “thrilling experience” and says he hopes to eventually screen the film locally. (Submitted photo)

“The Odd Way Home” was written and directed by Rajeev Nirmalakhandan, a professor at NMSU’s Creative Media Institute. The film stars Rumer Willis, Chris Marquette, Brendan Sexton III, Veronica Cartwright and Bruce Altman. (Submitted photo)

Breaking Glass Pictures is partnering with Sandia Media and Slant Productions to release Rajeev Nirmalakhandan’s feature film “The Odd Way Home” on DVD June 10. The film will have a theatrical release May 30 at the Arena Cinema theater in Hollywood. It will be available on iTunes and Dish Video on Demand June 3.

It was while doing research for an earlier film – a documentary about autism – that Nirmalakhandan, an instructor in the College of Arts and Science’s Creative Media Institute, came up with the idea for “The Odd Way Home,” a film that premiered last year at the Austin Film Festival.

“A few years ago, a colleague asked me to do a documentary on autism,” he said. “I went to Houston and met with families of various economic backgrounds with children from five to 13 years old with autism. It was such an inspirational, eye-opening experience for me. I saw these children from a very textured perspective and got to know them personally.”

In the film, Maya (played by Rumer Willis), a young woman escaping her past meets Duncan (Chris Marquette), a man with autism who’s never left his hometown and is a master of maps and directions. Together they set out on an inspirational journey and learn that home is defined in many different ways.

The film co-stars Brendan Sexton III, Veronica Cartwright and Bruce Altman.

Although it wasn’t his first project, Nirmalakhandan said, it was the first time he was completely involved in the filmmaking process from beginning to end. Ninety percent of the film was shot in Las Cruces and surrounding areas over the course of four weeks, and much of the crew consisted of current or former CMI students.

“I was incredibly amazed by their dedication,” he added. “Even the actors from Los Angeles said they saw that the crew was working hard not only for a paycheck, but because they were dedicated to the project and excited to be part of the experience.”

One of the challenges Nirmalakhandan faced was ensuring that the role of Duncan was realistically and truthfully portrayed.

“(Co-writer) Jason Ronstadt and I were really focused on not letting the plot alter Duncan’s behavior,” he explained. “Instead, his behavior alters the plot. One question people always ask is why autism, and I tell them how I got the idea. Most people think I have a family member who has autism. Everything I’ve learned about autism is from meeting other people, reading books, attending conferences and doing research. That’s how we were able to portray a completely authentic character.”

There also were physical challenges.

“We shot the film in July. We were outside for 21 days, probably for 12 hours a day, in the scorching hot sun. One night there was a crazy, biblical-style infestation and the crew was covered in locusts. If you had seen the physical challenges on set, you would never believe that scene turned into one of the sweetest, most touching moments in the film.”

To make the audience feel as if they, too, were on the journey with Maya and Duncan, Nirmalakhandan and the crew embarked on a 2,000-mile road trip filming exterior shots.

All that work paid off when Nirmalakhandan saw the audience’s reaction to the movie at the Austin Film Festival premiere.

“The most rewarding part was when we screened the film, and we heard the audience laughing and saw them wiping away tears. That was amazing,” he said. “Nothing gives me more joy than taking an idea from the initial concept and finally seeing it on the screen in front of an audience.”

“The Odd Way Home” will be the opening film at the upcoming White Sands International Film Festival in September, with a fundraiser for HeARTS for Autism, a nonprofit organization that promotes autism awareness. The film also will screen in June in Albuquerque at the KiMo Theatre. and proceeds will benefit local autism charities, followed by screenings at the Waterfront Film Festival in Michigan.

Additionally, the filmmakers have partnered with the organization Autism Today.

Before teaching at NMSU, Nirmalakhandan worked for Universal and DreamWorks studios.

His advice for aspiring filmmakers is to have a concept they truly care about.

“You have to live with the idea for so long,” he said. “It took me five years to get this film made. I was able to push it through and bring it to the light of day because I really cared about these characters and this story. That drove me through the tough times when I thought it wasn’t going to happen.

“My breakthrough came when I met producer Peter Touche who was equally passionate about the story and could not have been a better partner. Together we have had our own journey to make this film. There are always plenty of road bumps but perseverance is key and you have to love your characters like family.”

To learn more about the film, visit http://theoddwayhome.com or http://on.fb.me/1jhRS7M for behind-the-scenes footage and news updates.