Spotlight on Local Filmmakers: Hannah Eaton

By Helena Touhey

The Portsmouth resident recently made the short film “The Stewards”

HANNAH EATON GREW UP making films with an old Sony hand-held video camera. At the time, it was just a hobby. Fast forward more than a decade, and she rediscovered filmmaking as a narrative artform.

Eaton, who grew up in Portsmouth, where she currently lives with her husband and child, is the filmmaker behind The Stewards, a 15-minute short film that she describes as dystopian, but which is “ultimately about hope and love.”

“I hit this point [in my life] where I wasn’t quenching my creative thirst,” she says of pivoting from psychology, which she studied as an undergrad and graduate student, to filmmaking.

“I love film,” she says, “and I love stories.”

She was living in Seattle when she felt restless and joined a local film club, where she had to make a one-minute movie once a month; sometimes she used her phone, GoPro, or a Sony DSL.

Then, during the lockdown era of the pandemic, she joined a screenwriting course taught via Zoom. A “wonderful indie filmmaker” taught the course, and things started to click.

“I fell in love with it,” Eaton recalls, “I was like, finally, this is the thing I’ve been missing.”

She was especially drawn to the writing process and the art of storytelling. Through that course, she wrote a feature-length film, from which The Stewards is adapted.

Eaton moved back to Rhode Island with her husband and started getting as many film gigs as she could find. She eventually worked her way up to production manager and landed a job as co-producer with The Ellen Show in 2021. In that role, she interviewed nonprofit workers around the country, which she says combined her background as a therapist with her love for storytelling.

Other gig work included working as an extra on the set of The Gilded Age and assisting on various indie films.

“Basically, I was supporting a lot of other people with their projects,” she says. Eaton came to the realization “this is cool… but I have my own stories I want to tell.” All the while, she continued to write on the side.

When she decided to start filming on her own, it was partly out of a desire “to prove to myself and the world that I’m capable of making something decent,” she says.

She has a few other screenplays she’s written, including a dance film, but starting with a short version of The Stewards felt right.

“Basically, I listened to my intuition [and asked] ‘Which one feels more exciting? And that one felt most exciting,” she says.

The 15-minute film features a “virtual reality conservationist” who “begins to have a strangely familiar recurring dream that leads her to question her isolated community and way of life.”

The film explores “what is the most optimal way to live?”

“Ultimately, it’s about exploring relationships and family, set against this dystopian backdrop,” says Eaton, who’s long been a fan of dystopian novels and movies.

The Stewards premiered at the Chattanooga Film Fest. It was also one of more than a dozen shorts screened last year at the Nine Central Film Festival, organized by Jack Galvin and held at the Jane Pickens Theater for the first time.

The Stewards was shot locally in the summer of 2022, while Eaton was pregnant (you can catch a cameo of her in the film). Looking back, she says she gave birth to two projects at once.

Maxine Muster, who plays the film’s lead, is an old friend from St. George’s, where Eaton graduated in 2009, and flew in from Los Angeles to be a part of the project (that was a “full circle experience,” she says). The rest of the cast and crew hailed from the Northeast, mostly from Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Eaton is a member of Women in Film, serving as an ambassador for the New England chapter.

“It’s huge having the support system of women,” she says, noting she got a lot of gigs through WIF when she was starting out.

She also has a background as a wilderness guide and experience with ecotherapy, and says The Stewards is as much about humans overcoming adversity with an element of hope, as it is about developing a love for nature, which “helps us all to be stewards.”