ULEE'S GOLD is the story of Ulysses Jackson (Peter Fonda), a solitary beekeeper working in the tupelo marshes of the Florida Panhandle. Wishing only to work his bees and live withdrawn from past ties, Ulee is a war veteran devastated by his wife's death and the collapse of his family. With his son Jimmy (Tom Wood), in jail and his daughter-in-law Helen (Christine Dunford), run off now for almost two years, Ulee has had to become caretaker for his two granddaughters, Penny (Vanessa Zima) and Casey (Jessie Biel) Jackson.

The trio lives an ordered, if somewhat narrow life until a call from Jimmy changes everything. Helen is in trouble, and only Ulee can fetch her home. Ulee must travel to Orlando to retrieve Helen from two of Jimmy's former partners in crime, Eddie Flowers (Steven Flynn) and Ferris Dooley (Dewey Weber). The duo turns out to have their own reasons for getting Ulee to Orlando. Old robbery money is involved, and the two will haunt the Jackson family to the end.

Help comes from surprising places -- a new neighbor (Patricia Richardson), an old friend from the past (Kenneth Campbell), and the thoughts and insights of a child. Torn from his isolating routine, Ulee must draw on old strengths and craftiness to save his family, and ultimately, himself.

"ULEE'S GOLD was shot on location in north and central Florida. Most of the crew have worked together in the past, some having taken central positions in all of Nunez's films. Selected as the Festival Centerpiece Premiere for the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, it stars Peter Fonda as Ulee Jackson and Patricia Richardson as his sympathetic neighbor Connie Hope.

The story was inspired by a news photo seen years ago of a man and a young child gathering honey in the tupelo swamps. "It was a strange and beautiful photograph, and the image stayed with me for some reason. I wondered who these people might be, why they were out there, together, in that swamp," says writer/director Victor Nunez.

The project came to the attention of Jonathan Demme's company, Clinica Estetico, who in turn took it to Len White at Orion Pictures. The film had to be shot in the Spring due to the tupelo harvest, only a few weeks away. Much to everyone's satisfaction, Orion approved the project and preproduction began in January of last year. Aided by co-executive producer John Sloss, the film is a successful blend of independent spirit and industry support, a "Hybrid/Indy" as the crew calls it. "There's got to be some way to make character driven stories possible," says Nunez. "There are other examples of such production collaborations, but they are far too rare. The relationship with Clinica Estetico and Orion could not have been better.

Peter Fonda refers to the role of Ulee Jackson as "the best character I've ever read. It's the kind of role you pay money to do -- a complex character, full of possibilities and the script was full of moments that were very deep, very pure and very simple."

Fonda describes the story as a journey that deals with issues of family, loss, love and responsibility, but he also points out that it, is based on classic myth.

"The characters are called Ulee, for Ulysses, Helen and Penelope, Ulee's dead wife, which obviously touches on Homer's Odyssey. There's nothing 'high-falutin' about Victor's script, though. Ulysses was the one who thought of the Trojan Horse and like him, Ulee makes it through Vietnam by his trickery. Like Ulysses, Ulee has to make a trip back home, but his journey is personal as well as physical. He has to learn to be a person again, not to be so withdrawn, so introverted, to accept the responsibility that comes with children."

The reserved, distant beekeeper is a familiar persona to Fonda. His father, actor Henry Fonda, kept bees, and the similarities between Henry Fonda and Ulee Jackson, Peter notes, don't end at the apiary. "I've found a lot of Ulee in my father. He kept a couple of hives and I can see him hop-footing it across the lawn, thinking he had a bee up his pant leg.As I began to develop Ulee, I used a lot of the way my father was to us as kids, the way he was to us as a family and the way he was to himself."

Best known for her starring role on the hit comedy series "Home Improvement," Patricia Richardson found the part of Connie Hope to be a welcome departure. Connie lives across the street from her landlord, Ulee Jackson, and, according to Richardson, is as emotionally disconnected as Ulee at the start of the story. It was this enigmatic remoteness, among other things, that attracted Richardson to the character.

"I like the mystery involved with the character. She is a nurse who is new to the area. A nurturer by profession and temperament, she is coming out from her own private wars, very scarred herself and reluctant to get too involved in other people's lives. So, she's probably a little lonely but enjoying being alone at the same time."

The desperate crisis that afflicts the Jackson family draws Connie Hope into their closed world. According to Richardson, "Ulee is sort of beset by these women in the movie. He is trying to raise his son's daughters, he's got this volatile daughter-in-law to deal with and this nurse who suddenly comes into his life. These women, in their own ways, force him to cope, to come back to life."