It’s rare indeed that a major movie-theater chain chooses to exhibit an independent film—but that’s what happened with Belleville, a film produced in Belleville, Illinois, just across the river from St. Louis, written and directed by Dan Steadman and starring the film’s producer Ted Trent as “Neila,” a sweet, naïve, otherworldly character who comes into the life of a farmer suffering severe depression after his wife passed away several years earlier. Willie, the farmer, lives his life isolated from his neighbors for the most part, until Neila comes along and helps him along the journey from depression to hope. The film will open here in Springfield, along with 13 other locations from here to Minnesota, next Friday Sept.5th at the Campbell 16 Cinema in Springfield.
Steadman says the film made its public debut in its “hometown” of Belleville, IL, and “superseded our expectations—it did better than ‘Spiderman’ at the local theater!” It was held over for five weeks. “And that’s what really opened the doors to the Wehrenberg chain.” He’s understandably a bit evasive when it comes to the question, “Where IS Neila actually from?” He says, “I always prefer not to be spoon-fed as an audience member, and I enjoy allowing people to use their own imagination. You know, some people interpret (Neila’s origin) as heaven... or as a utopia... or a faraway land. I like the audience to sort of interpret that for themselves, because sometimes it’s far more fascinating than anything I could’ve come up with! But he is from another world, another land—far, far away.” (“Neila” is “alien” spelled backwards, but Steadman cautions against putting too much emphasis on that!)
Willie’s only real contact with the outside world before Neila shows up is what Dan Steadman describes as “this sort of nasty neighbor woman named Arlene,” who can’t stand strangers and outsiders, and is actively threatened by Neila’s presence. Steadman says he wanted to have a “villain” in the movie to counteract Neila, who is “such a beautiful character from a world that doesn’t understand the downsides of our world.” He found an actress in St. Louis, Cooper Shaw, who so impressed him that he hired her straight from her online demo. Shaw validated his faith in her by winning Best Supporting Actress at the American Movie Awards for her performance as Arlene.
In addition to the Springfield opening of “Belleville,” the production company Ted Trent Studios/Circa 87 Productions has already produced a second film, and will be holding open casting auditions for a third production during the opening weekend of “Belleville” in all 13 cities—including Springfield. They’ll be looking for both leads and supporting roles for an as-yet unwritten film dealing with sports. Auditions are scheduled for Friday Sept.5 from 4:00 to 7:00pm, and Saturday Sept.6 from noon to 4:00pm at Campbell 16 Cinema in Springfield. Information about the movie opening and the auditions are available at www.bellevillethemovie.com, and showtimes are available online at www.wehrenberg.com.
“Belleville” is scheduled to run through Thursday September 11—unless public demand inspires them to hold it over for a longer period.