Iowa movie premieres
Think back to the moment of your first kiss. If it happened before you were 16, you have more experience than Kate, the romantically inexperienced character of the independent-flick 16 to Life, who finds herself going through a sexual awakening on her 16th birthday.
16 to Life will make its Iowa première at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Englert, 221 E. Washington St., as part of the Landlocked Film Festival. Admission is $5.
Becky Smith, the writer and director of 16 to Life, has an extensive list of credits — she was the director for reality series “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” as well as In The Game, a documentary on women’s college basketball. Even with her success in the television and documentary worlds, writing and directing a feature film has been a dream of hers ever since her graduate studies at Stanford University.
“It’s very hard to break out of what you’re known for,” she said. “You usually get hired again and again and again for the thing that you do, and it’s hard to make a move out of that into something that you’re interested in.”
Iowa has played an extraordinarily large role not only in Smith’s movie — it was filmed on the Mississippi River in McGregor, Iowa — but in her life as well. The Stanford University graduate is a native of the Hawkeye State — she grew up in Okoboji.
“I feel like people talk a lot about small towns … in kind of this disparaging, negative way,” she said. “I think that [people] think it’s a very simple life.”
Throughout her childhood, she was heavily involved with theater and photography, but the idea of directing didn’t enter her thoughts. Going to see films in her hometown was a near-impossibility — the cinema nearest to her only screened adult films.
Despite not being able to frequent movies, the performing arts were frequently on her mind. Smith wanted to continue doing theater while in college, but she gave up her acting career while attending the University of Northern Colorado in favor of working for a magazine and the school yearbook.
Now a UCLA professor, she has received praise for 16 to Life during its tour around the world. The romantic comedy’s première at MethodFest in Los Angeles earned five award nominations and won two — the audience award for Best Picture, and Best Supporting Actress for Theresa Russell.
The flick, set in the rural Midwest, takes place in one day, centered on the life of Kate, played by Hallee Hirsh. Kate, who Hirsh described as a romantic who adores reading, is celebrating her 16th birthday and is in the throes of a sexual awakening but has yet to be kissed. Her obsession with books makes her idealize the world, Hirsh said.
“Because of her reading, she has a very idealized vision of what the world should be like around her and what the world is like outside of her little town,” she said.
Smith said her Iowa upbringing played a key role in her idea for the screenplay. Writing a film script about a girl growing up in a small town yet being able to maintain a larger sense of the world was a thought that had been on her mind for a while. She also desired to be incredibly honest with the script.
“I know that sounds really weird, but I really wanted the film that I was going to do to be something really honest that I really believed in,” she said. “So, I decided to do something about a girl who lives in a small town but has these ideas about the world around her and about what that experience is like and how she sort of takes her future into her own hands, and that’s where the whole thing began.”
Despite a grueling film schedule (the cast and crew filmed for 18 days, shooting six days a week at the end of the fall), Smith said one of the hardest parts of the entire process was screening the movie to test audiences.
“That was excruciating, because you are so invested in [the movie], and you’re still really close to it, and you’re trying to figure out as you’re cutting it how it’s going to work,” Smith said. “I would sit at the back of the room, and those were truly some of the most unpleasant evenings of my life. I just said to myself, ‘I have to do all these test screenings to make sure that the film is as good as it possibly can be.’ ”
Now that the hardest part of the filming is over, she said, she’s proud to show off the cast and crew’s work. Showings have taken them to China, which plays a major role in the film — Kate is engrossed in a book about the Cultural Revolution throughout the film.
The screening in Iowa on Saturday night is something both Hirsh and Smith are looking forward to, especially given the huge role the state played in the film. Mary Blackwood, the creative director for the Landlocked Film Festival, said that because of local draw, a green-carpet showing (to promote an environmentally friendly message) was appropriate.
“We’re making a big deal about it because it was filmed in Iowa,” Blackwood said, noting that there has been a lot of positive response to the film’s script.
Although the film has been premièred in the United States, Smith said there is something special about coming back to her home state to show off her work.
“I think Iowa is going to be very special and very important for the film,” she said. “I love Iowa, I love the landscape. I’m very proud that I was raised there. I think that I was an odd kid, but I’m very proud that I was raised there. I just love the fact that I can go back there and screen the film there. I don’t feel nervous about [the screening], I just feel excited about it.”
Check out these selections from the Landlocked Film Festival, recommended by festival organizer Mary Blackwood.
• Sum of the Parts
9 p.m. today, Englert
This thriller focuses on Batty Krieg, a man with daddy issues who ends up looking to the past in order to solve the murder of his best friend.
• Route 30
8:30 p.m. Friday, Englert
Bigfoot, an Amish woman, and an online porn tycoon meet in a Pennsylvanian forest.
• Danish Film Program
3 p.m. Saturday, Englert
See eight new movies from Denmark, including Alliancen — about a shady baby-sitter — and Leitmotif, an animated tale centered on a lonely jazz musician and his cat.
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