"This was the __________ of a lifetime!"
It's rare for me to use this expression with any word in the blank, but the third weekend of January certainly qualified. That was when the film "Prairie Love" debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
A mild sensation here when a couple of Minot High School graduates came back to film in the winter of 2008, "Prairie Love" was my first opportunity to appear in a movie. I had known they were going to submit it to Sundance, but so few make it I figured that that, as they say, was that.
Submitted Photo - - Cast and crew members, from left, Jeremy Clark, Garth Blomberg, Holly Lynn Ellis, Ceecy Nucker, Dusty Bias and Aisha Vadell last month attended the 2011 Sundance Film Festival premiere of “Prairie Love.”
Submitted Photo - - “Prairie Love” cast members Aisha Vadell, left, and Ceecy Nucker, right, meet “127 Hours” actor James Franco at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
Ceecy Nucker is a correspondent for The Minot Daily News.
A few e-mails came keeping us apprised, but it wasn't until December 2009 that I found out "Prairie Love" had been accepted. I called fellow actor Aisha Vadell, who had played Corrections Officer No. 2 to my Corrections Officer No. 1 minor roles, to be sure, but we talked each other into trying to get to the premiere. "How many times in your life will you get to _____________?" is another of those phrases that was suddenly germane.
Somehow Aisha made it happen and we took off on Saturday for the Sunday showing.
Sundance is the showcase for independent filmmakers. There were not simply 120 movies being presented, there were:
a) auditions for directors, cinematographers, make-up artists and other technicians
b) buyers' opportunities for new releases in theaters
c) the chance to see honest-to-goodness celebrities.
We met the principals of "Prairie Love," Holly Lynn Ellis and Dusty Bias, about an hour before the showing in Park City at the Yarrow Hotel. This was where the Sundance Festival backdrop was set up for photo shoots, and that's just what happened. At first it was just the people we'd worked with on the set in the Maysa Arena, then as the show time came closer, everyone with a camera was snapping away at us.
That was surreal. Rather than having just a few photographers, this was a 160-degree array of flashbulbs. And it went on and on for many minutes, long enough for us to become seriously disoriented.
We finally broke, and went to the artists' entrance to the theater. Dusty had us spread out in the auditorium "to encourage the laughter." We took our places and they opened the doors to the public.
I was hoping that the seats would be mostly filled so that Holly wouldn't be disappointed. How little I knew. They wound up turning people away and directing them to a later showing of it.
It was great. Trevor Groth, director of programming for the festival, introduced the film -- something he did for very few shows -- and he told us that films like "Prairie Love" were the reason the Sundance Festival was begun and something they saw too rarely anymore -- good storytellers on a shoestring budget getting the chance for an audience.
His words were encouraging, and the audience seemed to appreciate it, once they got over the stark landscape of North Dakota at 35 degrees below zero. The story was not what they had told us during the shoot, but we realized that was what we had needed to know at the time.
After the showing, all of us involved with the making were called down for the question-and-answer session, although few of us spoke. The first question was, "How did you get the wind so loud?" The Nodaks among us broke up. "We had to temper it," I said. The sound tech then answered seriously.
Afterward we chatted individually with interested viewers, including James Franco -- three days before his Oscar nomination -- who spoke at length with director Dusty Bias. The only other celebrity we saw was Blair Underwood, who was graciously signing autographs on the street downtown.
We attended the after-party and the after-after-party and had a great time.
"Prairie Love" was the only film we saw, because we left Monday to return to Minot and await further glories for the movie. The Huffington Post called it "unnervingly romantic ... (a) starkly humorous and startlingly composed drama." It was honored with the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at the Oxford Film Festival in Oxford, Miss., on Feb. 13. It is listed on Netflix, although it hasn't been made available yet, and you'll find Aisha and me on the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) as actors -- I figure I still have about six minutes of fame left!