Englert Theatre shows film shot entirely in Iowa


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A filmmaker shoots four pages of script per day on average. The film Aaseamah's Journey shot twice that number on average for 22 days in the sticky Iowa summer of 2009.

The movie will première at 8 p.m. Friday at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St.

In the film, a young Iraqi girl who as lost her mother in a bomb attack, Aaseamah, makes her way to the United States by tagging along with two American journalists. Together, they go on a road trip in Iowa to search for Aaseamah's father, John Smith.

Director and cowriter Marlo Bernier said the film appeals to audiences of all ages.

"There aren't any scenes in here that you couldn't show your 90-year-old grandma or your 9-year-old daughter or son," he said.

The film was shot when the tax incentive for movies created in Iowa was still in effect. Every set was created and shot in Iowa, including an Iraqi village and air-transport hangar, which were made in Bettendorf. The film also involves many local Iowans acting or doing behind-the-scenes work.

"They were just amazing technicians and artisans," Bernier said. "I don't mean to gush, but I really love these guys. I can't say enough good things about them."

Bernier, who lives in Los Angeles, said he and the rest of the crew enjoyed shooting in Iowa with the exception of one excruciatingly hot and humid day.

"Iowa is just a really great place to shoot because people are so friendly, and there are really no hassles," he said. "It was really easy."

Now, after delays from the Iowa film tax-credit program falling apart, the movie is finally finished. The première will also serve as a chance to benefit an Iowan who worked as a grip on the film. All net proceeds from the showing will go to benefit the Daniel "Swot" Hampel Fund. He was seriously injured while working on a side job — he fell 30 feet out of tree and broke his back. He is now wheelchair-bound and in extreme chronic pain. He requires a lot of physical therapy and rehab, and it will take some time before he is able to return to work.

"It's a nice way to spend a Friday evening in the middle of December and benefit a fellow Iowan who was seriously hurt," Bernier said.

Starring as Aaseamah in the film is Dominique Joelle, whose role was the 24-year-old Minnesota native's first acting gig. The support she received on set spurred her to continue acting after the movie.

"It's the most grueling and hard work that I've ever done, but at the end of the day, it's so satisfying," she said. "And that feeling of satisfaction makes acting worth it. It's the most fulfilling thing I've ever done."

Jennifer Fontaine, who plays Jodi McKenton, one of the journalists, also cowrote the script with Bernier.

"Marlo and I basically wrote around the clock," Fontaine said. "He basically lived at my apartment; we woke up, we wrote, we napped, we wrote, we ate, we wrote, and that was the process."

Fontaine described Aaseamah's Journey as a spirited, quiet movie about love and family.

"There's just a lot of s*** out there that's just like crap, and this isn't," she said. "I think to support indie filmmaking at its core is to go out and see this little film; it's great."

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