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Montevideo, Minn., native brings his effort to make film to town of his youth

Samuel Hathaway plays a lead role in the community theatre river walk play performed for the opening of the Meander Arts Crawl in the Upper Minnesota River Valley. He has authored his own screenplay and intends to turn it into an admittedly bare-bones budget, but art-worthy movie, under the title "Once Upon a Whitsun.'' Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

MONTEVIDEO -- There are ways for aspiring filmmakers to launch their projects absent connections in Hollywood or a pile of money big enough to fund a campaign for Congress.

One story tells how a duo tackled director Ed Harris and forced him to watch their movie trailer to win his backing.

More famously, Minnesota's own Coen brothers are said to have gone door to door with a film projector to beg the money needed to produce "Blood Simple.''

Samuel Hathaway, 24, is trying a different tactic.

He came home to Montevideo.

"For better or worse, this is where I have been inspired and these are the people I feel most passionate about,'' said Hathaway.

He authored his own screenplay and intends to turn it into an admittedly bare-bones budget, but art-worthy movie, under the title "Once Upon a Whitsun.''

The movie is about a train crash that kills the wives of two old Canadian men and allows two German prisoners of war to escape in the area of Damascus Factory, Ontario, in 1941.

At its heart, the story is one of reconciliation, Hathaway said. It's also one that contrasts the simplicity of the men's rural culture with that of the global conflict around them.

It's a fictional story, but based on the true stories that Hathaway heard while living in Ontario with his wife, Joanna.

His route to Ontario started after graduation from Montevideo High School in 2006.

He made a nearly year-long bicycle trip beginning along the Arctic Circle in the Scandinavian countries and ending in the company of his father, Geoff, in Istanbul, Turkey, by way of St. Petersburg, Russia.

He met his Canadian bride-to-be while working in Germany. He studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City for a year, and then studied separately under Tom Todoraff, acting coach to Liam Neeson.

Hathaway continued his studies in Toronto, where his wife and family introduced him to the stories of the German POWs held in their midst during World War II in the area of Kitchener, Ontario.

Hathaway said he learned early in his acting studies that Hollywood filmmaking is a cutthroat business, and that success often comes at the expense of artistic integrity.

In contrast, he grew up in a community with a sincere and honest appreciation for the arts, and a willingness to support them.

It's also a community that offers evidence that films can be made on a shoestring and hold true to artistic goals. Hathaway even had a bit part in the production of "Sweet Land,'' the debut and award-winning production of Ali Selim and Ed Driscoll that was filmed in the Montevideo area in 2008.

"It convinced me. If they can do that on a budget, surely I can do the same thing on a budget and make something beautiful,'' said Hathaway.

He wants to produce his film this coming March and April in the Montevideo area, using local actors and relying on local artisans to create the props.

Here's where the drama that keeps you on the edge of your seat starts.

He's invested his savings to produce a movie trailer to promote his project.

Now, he's looking to community support and crowd funding on the Internet to raise the $150,000 needed to produce a low-budget film.

He's raised more than $9,000 in contributions toward the film to date on the crowd funding website.

He's facing a Dec. 8 deadline on the website to raise the funds. He's also pursuing grant funding.

While Hollywood will continue to invest the big money in blockbuster productions, Hathaway is convinced that technological advances have lowered the cost of admission for those who still believe that movies -- like all forms of art -- are about sharing a message.

"I believe the script I have will move people,'' said Hathaway, adding that its themes of love, sacrifice and vengeance should resonate with everyone.

"My goal isn't to make it into this industry by hook or crook. My goal is to make a film as true as I know,'' said Hathaway.

To view the movie trailer or support the endeavor, go to or on Facebook, "Once Upon a Whitsun.''

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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