By Eric Koeppel:
On Wednesday, Jan. 29, the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts hosted a screening of “North Passage” for a sold-out crowd. The film is a locally produced psychological thriller directed by University of Wisconsin–Stout faculty member Kevin Pontuti. Besides a few small test screenings, this is the first time the film has been seen by a large audience.
Production for “North Passage” began nearly three years ago when Pontuti, screenwriter Charis Collins and Pontuti’s wife and producer Mimi French started kicking around ideas for a movie. By the fall of 2011, the trio had created a pitch trailer and launched an Indiegogo campaign from which they raised about $5,000.
Pontuti is the program director for Entertainment Design at the School of Art and Design at UW–Stout. His expertise ranges from photography to CGI, but this is the first time he has directed a film.
“It’s been a challenge,” Pontuti explained in regards to the production process. “I’ve worked on some big projects before and I ran a production studio in L.A. where we had done videos, but nothing like an hour-long film.”
“There were a lot of very new things about it for me, which is a lot of the fun figuring those things out,” he added.
The film is a 62-minute post-apocalyptic psychological thriller set in the North Woods starring Pontuti’s daughter Talula as Frea. On his website, Pontuti describes Frea as “a teenaged girl struggling to come to terms with life after civilization.”
In the film, Frea and her father escape the big city after a cultural meltdown and take shelter at Frea’s grandfather’s encampment. ‘North Passage’ examines “themes of loss and redemption within the psyche of Frea.”
Though the film itself is set in an unspecified North Woods area, most of the filming took place close to Menomonie.
“All of it was filmed either in Dunn County or Eau Claire, Wis.” Pontuti said.
But the scenery isn’t the only local aspect of “North Passage.” Both the cast and crew are comprised entirely of local volunteers.
“There were a lot of UW–Stout-associated people involved. I could give you a long list,” Pontuti said. “We had UW–Stout faculty that were actors and UW–Stout students that both acted and worked as part of the crew. There’s quite a bit of Stout in the film.
The production involved not just the campus community but the Menomonie community as well. After their Indiegogo campaign ended, the filmmakers held a casting call at The Raw Deal to assemble the rest of the cast. The crew also received help from local organizations, such as the Menomonie Theater Guild.
“The theater guild was really helpful,” Pontuti said. “They helped us quite a bit with wardrobe and props.”
“It was really a nice mix of getting all of those people together,” he added about community involvement in general.
Many of the folks involved attended the screening at the Mabel Tainter, which not only presented the film but also a behind the scenes documentary and a live reading of the Brothers Grimm tale “The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids” from professional storyteller Tracy Chipman.
However, the screening was not an official premier of “North Passage.” The filmmakers are waiting to hear back from various film festivals before deciding how and when the film will be released.
“We’re sort of on edge,” Pontuti said. “But it’s important that we are applying to some large festivals and also some regional festivals that we think would be good fits for the film.”
“I’m thinking that we’ll probably end up doing some sort of an online video-on-demand type delivery,” Pontuti added about the eventual release. “I think that there are so many opportunities with self-distribution or hybrid distribution that I think that’s probably one of the things that we’re going to be doing, and I really like that idea.”
But despite the stress of the production process and the anxiety of waiting to hear back from festivals, Pontuti is certain that “North Passage” will not be his only directorial venture.
“I definitely have some ideas already, and I do plan on doing this again,” he said.
For the film trailer and more information visit northpassagefilm.com. A behind the scenes documentary can also be found at vimeo.com/85244812