Actresses (from left) Brooke Adams, Emily Baldoni and Piper Laurie as three generations of women in Jan Miller Corran’s “Snapshots.” (Photo/Sunny Bak)
Actresses (from left) Brooke Adams, Emily Baldoni and Piper Laurie as three generations of women in Jan Miller Corran’s “Snapshots.” (Photo/Sunny Bak)

A mother’s deathbed confession inspired film about fallout from old family secrets

Secrets can take on a life of their own — even after the holder of the secret is long gone.

First-time screenwriter and veteran producer Jan Miller Corran, who at 69 is enjoying a successful second career, knows something of this. Her new art house film, “Snapshots,” which debuts in the Bay Area as part of the Frameline festival on Wednesday, June 20 at Berkeley’s Elmwood Theater and Thursday, June 21 at San Francisco’s Victoria Theater, is based on a secret her 94-year-old mother divulged at the end of her life.

“I’ll never forget it,” said Corran, a longtime Oakland resident who grew up in the tightknit Jewish community of Des Moines, Iowa. “It was during Passover, and my mother was dying. She said, ‘Louise was here to see me. Louise was the love of my life.’”

Corran, who is in an LGBT relationship herself, had no inkling at the time that her mother had a lesbian love affair in her 20s. After all, she had been married for many years to Corran’s father, who helped found the Iowa Jewish Home for senior care. Yet the cloak of melancholy and wistfulness that her mother often seemed to wear was now more explicable, she said.

“I was really sorry that it took so long for my mother to tell me this,” Corran said. “In a matter of 24 hours, she was in a coma. Four days later, she died. A huge secret was revealed, and then she was gone.” But obviously not forgotten.

Corran, who has doctorates in psychology, gerontology and health care administration and worked for many years in elder care, including eight years as the executive director of the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville, decided to explore artistically the damage wrought by long-held secrets.

Years before, she had crafted a play, “Three Women in a Box,” which had an off-off-Broadway production. She pulled it from the shelf and began writing a film adaptation that centered on three generations of women, each carrying heavy burdens, with the eldest character bearing the brunt of silence surrounding a clandestine love affair.

The screenplay that was to become “Snapshots” attracted the attention of Hollywood veteran Melanie Mayron (“thirtysomething”), who signed on to direct, and three-time Academy Award-nominated actress Piper Laurie, who at 86 plays the wise, knowing matriarch haunted by a lost and secretive love.

The movie will be released nationwide in August. It also screened at the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival on June 8-9. Meanwhile, it is racking up awards, including the Independent Film Showcase’s best actress award for Laurie, who told the screenwriter, “I have been handed many scripts, and I hadn’t done a film in six years, but when I read this script, I knew I had to do this one.”

The moviemaking bug first hit Corran almost 25 years ago, when she was the administrator of an Alzheimer’s care facility in Castro Valley. Documentarian Deborah Hoffmann, whose 87-year-old Jewish mother was a resident at the facility, decided to chronicle the trajectory of her mother’s illness. Corran signed on as a consultant to the film, the Oscar-nominated “Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter,” which was widely aired as part of public television’s POV series.

In 2012, Corran left the senior care industry to devote herself to the movie business full time. Since then, she has served as producer on a dozen or so films, including the much-touted “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” with Blythe Danner, June Squibb, Rhea Perlman and Mary Kay Place in 2015. Perhaps not coincidentally, that movie, like “Snapshots,” touches on issues of aging, a subject that remains close to Corran’s heart.

“I absolutely have an affinity for the aging,” said Corran, who observes “tremendous prejudice against them.”

She recounted her own grandmother’s experience at an elder care facility, where she believed that a staff member was stealing from her. Her grandmother’s accusations were not given much credence, although it was subsequently discovered that someone had been robbing her.

There is a widespread feeling, said Corran, that most older people “don’t know what they’re talking about.”

That’s why the Piper Laurie character in “Snapshots,” Rose Muller, is so critical to the audience’s understanding of the vital contributions senior citizens can make to society.

“Rose doesn’t need to be taken care of,” said Corran. “She takes care [of her daughter and granddaughter]. She becomes their rock of wisdom.”

“Snapshots” screens at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 20 at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, Berkeley, and at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 21 at the Victoria Theatre, S.F. $14.

Robert Nagler Miller
Robert Nagler Miller

Robert Nagler Miller, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Wesleyan University, received his master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. For more than 25 years, he worked as a writer and editor at a variety of nonprofits in the Los Angeles and Bay Areas. In 2016, he and his husband, Dr. Arnold Friedlander, relocated to Chicago. Robert loves schmoozing, noshing, kvetching, Scrabble, reading and NPR.