Procrastination tends to be especially common during finals. Some students unearth friends’ middle school Facebook pictures, others clean their rooms — but during finals weeks of his second year, fourth-year College student Alexander Rafala started writing a film. His film, “Farewell Old Stringy,” was eventually screened at the Virginia Film Festival.
Rafala said the screenplay was initially centered on a character’s suicide. It took on a level of emotional nuance when, during the summer following Rafala’s second year, his own co-worker committed suicide.
“We worked on Friday night and on Monday morning I found out that he took his life, and that’s the most bizarre thing,” Rafala said.
Rafala said the workplace’s atmosphere in the wake of the loss significantly shaped his vision for the film.
“[Work was] the place where he was, and being there with all the other waiters, we would talk about it,” Rafala said. “I remember being at work, and I’d get an idea for the script. I’d bus a table, and go off and write a line down on the little ordering sheets. At the end of the day I would empty my pocket and go through all the little sheets of ideas.”
Rafala said he used his experience with suicide to offer a unique perspective of the issue. His film follows a homeless man named Davey, who enlists two college students to help him cope with his imaginary friend’s suicide.
“All of a sudden, the screenplay had a reason to exist,” Rafala said. “I realized that I couldn’t possibly comprehend what kind of feelings and emotions and compulsions that person was having. Instead of trying to explain how a suicidal person feels, I tried to explain how a bystander feels.”
Fundraising and casting occupied Rafala for some of his fourth year. He garnered a $13,000 budget for the film through independent fundraising efforts and University grants. He cast his mentor, University Drama Prof. Richard Warner, in the film.
“I wrote the part of the old man for one of my professors at U.Va., that was the one we were worried about,” Rafala said. “He has a great philosophy. He says, ‘I’m an educator and it’s my job to teach, I firmly believe that the best way to teach something or to learn something is by doing. So I can’t not facilitate that process.’ He happened to be really excited about the part, and he did a fantastic job.”
Warner was cast as a schizophrenic homeless man. He said the role afforded him a unique challenge.
“I had never done a role quite like that, so when you do a role like that and you're talking about changing your mentality like that, you have to do what I call freefalling,” Warner said. “You have to get yourself into whatever persona that is, and trust the people around you are going to guide you and help you, because you have to stay there.”
Warner said as he worked with Rafala, he grew as an actor and writer.
“He’s hired me, I worked for him, now there’s a peerage going on,” Warner said. “I've had the privilege of having a lot of students keep in touch with me, and I have a feeling Alex will be one of those too.”
Rafala plans to move to New York City to pursue a career in acting after graduation.
“My entry essay into U.Va. was about the power of film,” Rafala said. “I want to inspire someone the same way I’ve been inspired.”