First Posted: 2/8/2009
Rob Connolly didnt know what to expect when he came to the Mount Airy debut of his film, which recently appeared in the Sundance Film Festival and was shot locally in town at the inoperative Spencers factory just a year ago.
But what the Mount Airy native did get was an enormous amount of support from family, friends and the community who saw the 15-minute films premiere at the Downtown Cinema Theatre Saturday night.
I didnt know if it was going to be 50 to 100 people or just five of us, the 25-year-old said laughing.
It turned out to be well over a hundred people.
Its been a fun experience, said Connollys father, Alan Connolly. The support is overwhelming. The amount of people here tonight is indicative of the support hes had.
Connolly wrote, directed and co-produced Our Neck of the Woods, which tells the story of a small-town factory workers ordinary life taking an extraordinary turn when he falls for a co-worker from Russia and wants to save her from a mundane life. It stars Nathan Johnson, Rebecca Larsen, Hope Vaught, Chris Greene, Linda Barber and Steffen Schollaert. The screenplay for the film is derived from a short story from Bluebirds Used to Croon the Choir by Joe Meno.
Filmed in Mount Airy during late February and early March of 2008, Our Neck of the Woods was directed by Connolly as his Master of Fine Arts thesis project for the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The film appeared as an official selection in the 2009 Sundance Film Festival last month.
Connolly said the inspiration for the film developed from him growing up in Mount Airy, his familiarity with small-town life and working in a factory.
I worked in a factory when I was 16, and I was fascinated by the story because it was such a part of the town and my growing up manufacturing is a big part of this area, he said. Theres something interesting about someone who wants something different but is used to the same thing and in order to help himself, he helps someone else.
With the help of dozens of Mount Airy businesses, residents and friends who participated with the film and supported it, Connolly was thrilled to show the final product to his hometown, he said.
From extras appearing in the film to volunteers building set pieces, Connolly estimated anywhere from 300 to 500 people offered a helping hand in creating the final product including crew members from North Carolina, New York and Los Angeles. With humble reluctance, Connolly said that the film cost between $50,000 to $60,000 to make during a question-and-answer session following the film premiere.
Its really pretty amazing, he said to the large audience at the premiere. You people did amazing things.
Chase Crossingham, who was one of several moral and financial supporters of the film project, was equally impressed with Connollys amazing passion and drive to return to his hometown to make the movie.
Rob is out in the world expressing our values in the community, and I think its very constructive we have an ambassador representing what we care about in this community, he said.
He also said that Mount Airy has depended economically on the Mayberry theme for a while and believes that younger generations returning to Mount Airy with other projects and endeavors such as this film can be rejuvenating for the area.
Ron is a young man who incorporates Mount Airy and its resources in his film, he said. Mount Airy depends on nostalgia as export. We need to reinvent ourselves and revive ourselves with a useful message.
He said it was ironic how Connolly was filming a story centered around a manufacturing factory in a small town in Mount Airy, which used to be a manufacturing town itself. He said while many of the manufacturing jobs have been exported outside of America, Connolly created a product in Mount Airy that could be exported outside of America, bringing profit back to the area.
M.A. and Judy Barnes were also morally and financially supportive of the film project and said they were ultimately impressed with the final product.
The final product was awesome, the couple said, simultaneously.
It was more than I imagined, M.A. Barnes said. I see how its possible to make it a longer film. I absolutely see bigger things ahead for him.
And the next step for Connolly is developing the 15-minute film into a feature film. He is in the stages of writing a longer screenplay that he will try to solicit to film companies, while also entering his short film into other film festivals.
Its been incredible, he said. Ive been responding to the fact it feels like a feature film. People seem to love the quirkiness of it, the small-town feel and (the film) is different, I hope.
Contact Erin C. Perkins at [email protected] or 719-1952.