SXSW 2015 Review: ‘Stone Barn Castle’ and its Celebrity Restoration

Imagine Adrien Brody starring in an episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and you have some idea of the documentary Stone Barn Castle. But because it’s a movie, it has to be even bigger than a TV show, so it’s not only remodeling a house. It’s a damn castle, and it’s got A-list Hollywood stars.

In 2007, Brody bought a dilapidated stone barn in the middle of the woods in upstate New York. He thought restoring it would be a fun project and give him a place to live outside of the business. Getting his castle ready for a photo shoot was only the beginning, as it ended up taking 7 years to complete the renovation.

Co-director Kevin Ford (who made the film with Brody) makes a really good documentary with what looks like consumer cameras. It began as just filming his friend casually so that would make sense. Ford is a cinematographer and editor so he knows how to make it look like a real film with whatever materials he has.


It’s fun to see Hollywood actors do manual labor. Construction and carpentry montages should have been set to ‘80s music, but the classical score works. Even the unscored silence works as we watch the castle come together. It is a fast paced race to get the castle ready for the photo shoot deadline. Beyond that the film becomes more introspective as Brody contemplates what he’s gotten himself into.

Ford captures great moments of interaction with Brody and his friends engaged with the project. The cast includes Brody’s then-girlfriend Elsa Pataky, and a cameo from his friend Vera Farmiga giving a priceless reaction to the location at first site. These are natural performers with inherent charisma, even as we see them in a natural environment. As the protagonist, Brody goes through a full character arc.

There are many ways Stone Barn Castle is accessible to any audience. The craft of building restoration may appeal to some, and being a fly in the wall in an actor’s personal life may be enticing. It becomes a metaphor for any grand pursuit in life, with some heartbreaking images of time passed and beauty finding a way through the rubble. As epic as the films Brody acted in were, this is seven real years of life distilled down to 80 minutes!7

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.