Alexander Janko ’91 on the set of “Year by the Sea”
Courtesy Year by the Sea
Cressey Belden Janko ’91
Courtesy Cressey Belden Janko
Joan Anderson’s book A Year by the Sea starts: “The decision to separate seemed to happen overnight.”

Those words captivated Cressey Belden Janko ’91, who promptly brought the memoir home, where her then-husband Alexander “Xandy” Janko ’91, found the book on the kitchen table and read it in one afternoon.

“I thought to myself, my god, this is a universal story,” Alexander said. “It was the first time in my life that I could see, hear, smell, taste a story.”

He immediately tried to get the rights to make a movie out of the book, and this month — nearly a decade after that first reading — the film, titled Year by the Sea, premiered in select theaters across the country (see for details). Alexander is the film’s writer, director, and composer, and Cressey is the executive producer.

Cressey and Alexander met the spring before they started at Princeton and soon became close friends at the University. They married the year after graduating and moved to Hollywood, where she worked on the corporate side of the entertainment industry while he composed movie scores.

They discovered A Year by the Sea in 2008, at a time when a story about a separating couple hit particularly close to home. Cressey and Alexander divorced within a few years, though they remain close friends. They are also parents to a teenage daughter.

“I really feel that the book picked us because it appeared at the time in our life when we were ready to do something,” Alexander said.

He described the story as a coming of age of sorts as the main character sets out on a year of self-discovery away from her husband and children. Though Alexander and Cressey were both passionate about the story’s message, they struggled to find funders and actors who were interested in the film.

That all changed when Cressey’s mother died suddenly and left an inheritance. Cressey said she thought it was a story “that women especially the world over should hear,” so she became the first investor and executive producer. After that, other funders came on board and actors began signing on, including Karen Allen, who plays Joan Anderson and has already won several awards for the role at film festivals.

“It’s basically about saying, ‘it’s never too late to reclaim your life,’” Cressey said. “And I think, gosh, if my Mom’s legacy could be to send those kinds of affirming words out into the universe, that’s totally who she was.”

Year by the Sea is coming to the Princeton Garden Theatre Oct. 27, 2017 — see for show times.