The Dust Factory
September 9, 2005
Intelligent movies for young teenagers are hard to come by. They are either hopelessly saccharine Disney-fied movies that no kid could ever relate to or 90-minute product placements. Both types tend to leave little to the imagination. Every so often a film comes along that stands out by bucking contemporary trends and fads. The Dust Factory (2004) is such a film. It is a thoughtful meditation on loss. How do you deal with the death of a loved one?
Ryan (Kelley) has his first real brush with mortality when he goes to the funeral of his grandmother. His grandfather (Mueller-Stahl) suffers from Alzheimer’s, unaware that his wife is dead. Ryan lives in the shadow of his father who died when he was nine years old. He loved astronomy and his son carries on this passion.
The young boy spends idyllic summer days fishing and hanging out with his best friend but his heart just isn’t in it. He’s become quiet and withdrawn. One day, Ryan accidentally falls into a river and when he emerges the world has changed in subtle ways. Everything looks the same but with less people around. Ryan meets his grandfather who is now lucid and they spend quality time together taking walks and telling stories. Ryan also meets a cute girl named Melanie (Panettiere) who can skate on the surface of a lake (“It is always winter for me,” she says.). She’s an extroverted girl who brings Ryan out of his shell and bonds with him over a mutual love of astronomy and the space program.
Melanie tells Ryan that this realm is known as the Dust Factory, “A home away from home until you’re ready to go back.” It is a richly-textured world with its own set of rules, a magical place where people can appear and disappear, where someone’s shadow has a life of its own and most of the action takes place in a carnival tent in the middle of a field. In this respect, is shares dabbles in the same kind of magic realism genre as Field of Dreams (1989).
Melanie and Ryan become fast friends playing in this lush, green-forested countryside where the sun always shines. It’s an idealized version of the world Ryan once knew. It evokes those lazy Sunday afternoons when you were a kid and had no responsibilities, content to do nothing but waste hours with your friends. Eventually, Ryan is forced to make a choice: stay in this realm with Melanie where nothing changes or go back to the real world where he belongs.
The Dust Factory is a rare film that champions imagination without irony. The two young actors are excellent and devoid of annoying child actor tics like mugging for the camera. They deliver heartfelt, believable performances. The movie relies on good old fashioned storytelling which is something you don’t see much in kids’ films anymore. It eschews modern trappings, like TV, video games and the Internet in favour of collecting baseball cards and gazing at the stars. This gives the film a timeless nature that is refreshing in this day and age.
“Making The Dust Factory” is a far too brief look at the movie with the cast and crew talking about it and their characters with clips.
There are two deleted scenes that include one in which Ryan and Melanie move a trunk and another that takes place at the ball. They are both brief and not important but could have easily been kept in.
Also included is a music video for the sappy ballad “Someone Like You,” performed by Hayden Panettiere. There is footage of her recording the song with Watt White and clips from the movie.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.