Digging to China

Director: Timothy Hutton
Screenwriters: Karen Janszen

Institute History

  • 1998 Sundance Film Festival


How do we end up where we are born? Is there some divine order to family and place? Or is home where and with whom we make it? In Digging to China, Timothy Hutton’s bittersweet coming-of-age film, a precocious girl determined to leave this world for a more magical one finally finds her way home.

For nine-year-old Harriet Francovich, anywhere is better than Whittier. Being abducted by a UFO, riding a magic carpet to Persia, or digging her way to China are all preferable to living with a sick mom (Cathy Moriarty) and a mean, boy-crazy sister (Mary Stuart Masterson). Things change when Harriet meets Richard Troth (Kevin Bacon) after his mother’s car breaks down near the motel where she lives. Richard, who is developmentally handicapped, is as reclusive as Harriet is outgoing, but Harriet’s vivid imagination and wanderlust are infectious, and the two are soon inseparable. In a fateful turn, Harriet’s mother is killed, and family secrets are unearthed. When Harriet learns that Richard will be sent to a home, she convinces him to run away with her. But the film isn’t a downer, quite the opposite. Karen Janszen’s wise script, in Hutton’s graceful hands, captures the wonder of childhood, a place momentarily unspoiled by disappointment and loss. Newcomer Evan Rachel Wood is remarkable opposite a brilliant and nuanced performance by Bacon. Masterson, Moriarty, and Marian Seldes as Richard’s mother are all outstanding. An astonishing debut film for Hutton, Digging to China reminds us to be available to the adventure that is life—right here, right now, at home.

Timothy Hutton, Director
Timothy Hutton got the film world’s immediate attention when his debut in Robert Redford’s Ordinary People won a Golden Globe, the Los Angeles Film Critics Award, and an Oscar for best supporting actor. Other films include Daniel and Q&A for Sidney Lumet, The Falcon and the Snowman, The Substance of Fire, and Beautiful Girls, directed by Premiere compatriot Ted Demme. Hutton originated the lead role in the Broadway production of Craig Lewis’ Prelude to a Kiss. Digging to China marks his feature film directorial debut.

— Helen Echegoyen

Screening Details

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