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In the Company of Strangers

"The Vital Voice" by Lee Rice

published March 20, 2008

One day last week, my editor, Lucas Hudson, came to me with a DVD copy of an independent film called "In the Company of Strangers." As anyone that reads my column (At the movies with Lee Rice) knows, I usually review the big Hollywood movie of the week, so I was rather relieved to get a chance to see something different. Well, after seeing the film, I definitely feel richer for it. 

"Strangers" is the story of Brian Nowicki, a young man convicted of a hate crime. Rather than being sentenced to a term in a correctional facility, he is instead sent to do community service at an AIDS hospice. During his time there, Brian learns that the people he once despised are really no different from him, and winds up being impressed by their struggles against the disease that is slowly stealing their lives. 

First, the technical aspects.

Independent films, usually shot on shoestring budgets, are often a showcase for filmmakers that can make more out of less. Although film is usually the preferred format for movie making, director Tom Hofbauer makes the most out of the video format, and provides us with an excellently shot film, and perhaps the most impressive thing is his use of color and lighting. The result is a well lit film that manages to be quite visually appealing despite its budgetary limitations. To be honest, I'd like to see what Hofbauer can do with a bigger budget. 

Also, the acting is quite good, and most of the actors are fairly talented, with a few exceptions that I won't be so cruel as to list by name. The characters all seem to be fairly well written and consistent, and Brian's transformation from intolerant criminal to acceping human being makes for an interesting journey. 

All in all, I liked "In the Company of Strangers," and was happy when I had the chance to sit down and talk with the writer, producer, and director, Tom Hofbauer.

"Strangers" wasn't a project that suddenly came into being overnight. In fact, it started long before Hofbauer started writing the script in 2001. 

"One of the reasons I made the film is because in college, I knew some people who would go out and look for some people to harass on Friday nights, and it always struck me as wrong," Hofbauer said. "Also, there was something else that I think added to the idea, and that was a program I heard about in Belfast. In order to try and stop the religious hatred there, they would send a Protestant child to live in a Catholic home, and a Catholic child to live in a Protestant home. When you took the kids out of their environment, they began to learn that there wasn't any difference between themselves and the people they were being taught to hate." 

The idea stuck with him for quite some time, and eventually, he began writing a film about it. Although the story was many years in the making, Hofbauer said that once he began shooting, things went as smooth as glass in every department except financing. 

"It was a story that needed to be told. Everybody did an excellent job and it felt like we were actually just a conduit for the story."

Hofbauer also said that he was pleased that his film still looks contemporary despite the fact that a few years have passed since it was made. 

In all, I think that "In the Company of Strangers" was an excellent example of independent filmmaking. 

The film is available for purchase at

Final verdict: A-

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