“Lights, camera, action!” is how many think of a film director, but put yourself in Aaron Warr’s place and that image might change. His film, “College Debts,” will have its world premiere right here in River City 7 p.m. Aug. 14 at the Landmark and Rave theaters. It is open to the public as is the after-party at Purple located at 500 Main St. following the showings. The film will play at Landmark for two weeks as well as in 23 other Carmike theaters throughout the Midwest including Champaign and Bloomington in what I call “Warr on 74.”
The Spalding Institute graduate and member of a large and prominent Peoria family, wrote the screenplay, raised the money, cast, shot, edited and now is promoting his first film. He learned the directing craft by watching others at work on the sets of “Prison Break,” “ER” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” He wrote the script based on some of his experiences in college and his awareness of the credit card scams that financially unsophisticated students fell prey to and he describes the film as a “dramedy” which tells me it is not just another “Animal House” college movie.
With Sen. Bernie Sanders running for President on a platform to reform college expenses and constant news stories about struggling millennials working off their college debts, it seems Mr. Warr’s film is timely and will speak to a large audience.
That timeliness has been a long time coming as Mr. Warr called “action” on the set during a 21-day shoot schedule in April 2009. Then came a year in the editing room and finally an invitation to show his film at the most prestigious film festival, Cannes.
He was offered various distribution deals some of which were attractive but on further legal study were found to be designed to separate him from his property. He eventually signed a deal with a distributor to option his film until 2014. And then nothing, nada, zilch. No showings, no premiere. The film was owned by a distributor who was not able to get it into theaters. Sometimes options are taken to keep a property out of the market, sometimes it is just bad luck, but now the option has expired and Mr. Warr is anxiously waiting for the birth of his “baby” which has been in gestation for six years! Many scenes were shot here including a scene at the old Hub ballroom in Edelstein, shots of the river, a shot of Peoria Charter Coach and many others.
“College Debts” stars the late Academy Award winning actress Celeste Holm in her final film appearance, also Richard Pryor, Jr., Randy Jones (cowboy, from the Village People) Janet Carroll (Risky Business) Joe and Katherine Luckinbill (grandchildren of Lucille Ball) and many others including an assortment of drag queens and body builders. Something for everyone.
I encourage everyone to come out for the premiere or for the two weeks at Landmark and show that we support our own. Next Mr. Warr will be directing his screenplay “American Criminals” which he will shoot in Chicago in the spring of 2016. The film is the story of the murder that took the country by storm in the 1920’s known as the Leopold and Loeb case. We wish him continued success for his new endeavor.
Have you been hesitant to try an evening of Shakespeare? If so put that aside and get thee post haste to see “Love’s Labour’s Lost” which runs through Aug. 8 at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival at the Ewing Manor in Bloomington. The festival is in its 38th season, and this year has a talented and attractive company of professional actors including Robert Gerard Anderson who teaches acting at the University of Illinois and is an absolute knockout as the comic Armado and, in the best Shakespearean tradition, is enthusiastically applauded at the end of his early scenes in the play. Lx3 is a play not done very often, and I endured a dull production at the Ashland Festival in Oregon 40 plus years ago, but this current production directed by Curt Tofteland is very well done and lots of fun. It is a comic romance with a twist, and I highly recommend it as an initiation for the Bard. The boys in the play solemnly resolve that their academic studies will be their sole passion, that they will be aloof from other distractions in pursuit of matters of the mind and this resolution lasts about as long as any foolish ideology when confronted with reality, in this case a bevy of beauties. Go early to enjoy a pre-show jazz concert in the courtyard of the Ewing Manor before enjoying the play in the comfortable and well equipped open air theater. Those who enjoy a more serious play will like “Richard II” with Kevin Rich in the title role. He also renders yoeman’s service as the festival artistic director. Mr. Rich was guest director at Bradley last spring when he directed “As You Like It.” Call the box office at 309-438-2535 or go to www.thefestival.org.
Cornstock hosted a Broadway guest actor and former Peorian, Bart Shatto in the somber and poetic musical, “The Secret Garden” well directed by Pam Orear. She is one of our best local directors (her “Hairspray” at the tent was most enjoyable) and she has a voice and a presence that carries the evening, but talented as they are the show was successful because of a strong cast of local talent including Mike Reams, Katy Speiden and the remarkable 6th grade student from St. Phil’s School, Faustina Hoerdeman. Cornstock is our most financially secure community theater and because of continued audience support able to afford the expense of bringing a professional actor to star in a show. It was money well spent and the audience was appreciative of the decision by the theater to make that investment for our enjoyment.