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Work on film begins, ghosts and all

Based on a 1920 play, In the Little Mansion is being filmed north of Brooksville.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 25, 2001

BROOKSVILLE -- When director Jan Sycz decided to retell a story of ghosts, crime and passion, he found his backdrop in the natural beauty just north of Brooksville.

Shooting on the feature film, In The Little Mansion, began Tuesday in Hernando County's only true antebellum mansion -- the Chinsegut Manor House.

Based on the 1920 play by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, In the Little Mansion tells the story of an American family with British ties living in an isolated mansion. When the young matriarch is killed, her spirit is brought back to the house by her teenage daughters.

By telling the story, Sycz said he is more interested in asking questions than in giving answers.

"I do not believe that even Leonardo da Vinci knew why the Mona Lisa was smiling," said Sycz in a voice heavily laden with a mixed European accent.

Since he first directed the play two decades ago in his native Poland, Sycz said he has wanted to convert the work into a film. Now, he is directing and producing the movie for his New Port Richey production company, Pan Productions.

In The Little Mansion is truly an independent film, said Sycz, with much of the funding coming from his own pocket. But the risk is calculated.

"I wouldn't risk plenty of my own money and invite people to view this if I didn't think it was a good story," said Sycz, who moved to New Port Richey in 1996.

Filming is scheduled to continue for three weeks. A release date has not been set, but Sycz hopes to tour the film at a number of film festivals next year.

Although Sycz's film version is contemporary, the story, he said, is timeless.

"It has all the elements of drama," he said. "This is a character-driven drama. It paints a picture of people and how they live."

Besides its translation into a new medium, the script also switched languages.

"The dramatic structure is woven into the dream-like dialogue," said Sycz's daughter Joanna, who translated the script. "What is colorful in the Polish language may sound silly in English."

Although she first saw the play when she was 5 years old, the movie marks the first time Joanna Sycz has worked with her father -- an experience that has added a new dimension to their relationship.

"This is good for us to work on a professional basis," said the 27-year-old actor, who plays Anette Casey, a British cousin who looks after the daughters after their mother's death. Though she was hired primarily to watch the children, Anette spends much of her time manipulating the men in the house.

"It is a very difficult role for me to play. She has no sense of pride and honor," she said of her chameleon-like character. "She follows the waves, but never makes any herself."

On Tuesday, the crew worked on one of the film's final scenes where Elisabeth's ghost returns to say goodbye to her poet lover.

Shot in the oppressively hot third floor of the house, the romantic scene had crew members and actors wilting like flowers.

Set 5 miles north of Brooksville, the white clapboard manor house rises three stories above a clearing at the top of Chinsegut Hill. The house and grounds are used by the University of South Florida as a conference and retreat center.

But movie makers aren't the only ones with ghost stories.

Stella Mason, a special events coordinator for the center, said visitors occasionally report figures in windows, mysterious curtains that open and close, and an entryway chandelier that moves on its own.

Perhaps it is the spirit of 2-year-old Edgar Snow, who died on his birthday in 1878. Or maybe it is one of the house's more famous owners, Col. Raymond and Margaret Robins.

"Ghosts make for good conversation," said Mason. "People seem to have a lot of fun with that up here."

In 1904 Col. Robins named the house for Chinsegut Hill, a word from the Inuit tribe which means, appropriately enough, "The Spirit of Lost Things."

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