Unseparated <I>Woodsman</I>: Will Bacon sizzle as pedophile?

Legend has it that anybody can be connected to Hollywood icon Kevin Bacon within six degrees of separation. Those who knew Nicole Kassell during her days at St. Anne's-Belfield School, however, need only two.

Three years ago, fresh out of the film program at NYU, Charlottesville native Kassell set the Hollywood buzz bin alight with her Sundance Film Festival-worthy senior thesis project, The Green Hour. It wasn't long before she had another winner on her hands. Her screenplay for The Woodsman, carefully carved along with Steven Fechter from his play by the same name, turned some particularly highbrow eyebrows.

Was it chance or fate that guided the screenplay into Bacon's hands?

"The producer had sent it to a potential financier, and that guy was on vacation at the same place as Kevin over Christmas in 2002," Kassell explains. The producer, wondering if it were a good investment, asked Bacon to read the script of the pedophile who returns to his hometown. "He thought he'd read ten pages," Kassell says of Bacon, "but he said he couldn't put it down."

Not only did Bacon soon call Kassell to offer to play the lead, but he also enlisted several other heavy hitters. The neophyte filmmaker suddenly found herself with an all-star cast including Benjamin Bratt, Mos Def, and Eve.

Her big breakthrough came a year earlier as an upstart Sundance competitor when The Woodsman won the 2001 Slamdance Screenplay Competition. "Then I had an award-winning screenplay plus some solid short films to show as my portfolio," says Kassell.

Now 31, Kassell hopes that a wider audience will embrace the theatrical release of her film, which is being handled by Newmarket Film Group, the company that distributed Monster, whose star, Charlize Theron, won last year's Academy Award for Best Actress.

"We're opening on December 24 in New York, L.A., and San Francisco, a limited release, and they'll roll it out wider throughout January," she says.

"The big ones were Sundance, Cannes, Deauville, Toronto... It'll be in Woodstock, Mill Valley, Denver, Chicago, Austin, New Orleans..." says Kassell breathlessly. She's bringing her film to the Virginia Film Festival this week, passing up the larger and more exotic draws of a London festival.

"It's the first opportunity I've had to bring my film home," she says, "and it's a really nice way to show it to the community that has supported me in a lot of my smaller films."

Nicole Kassell