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Landlocked Festival bringing ‘16 to Life’ home for premiere

Posted on Aug 20, 2009 by Diana Nollen.

The tension mounts for Darby (Mandy Musgrave, left) and birthday girl Kate (Hallee Hirsh), who’s mortified to be sweet 16 and never been kissed. The film, “16 to Life,” will have its Iowa premiere during the Landlocked Film Festival in Iowa City, then will move to Elkader for Sept. 3 showings at 4 p.m. in the Elkader Cinema and 7:30 p.m. in the Elkader Opera House.

The tension mounts for Darby (Mandy Musgrave, left) and birthday girl Kate (Hallee Hirsh), who’s mortified to be sweet 16 and never been kissed. The film, “16 to Life,” will have its Iowa premiere during the Landlocked Film Festival in Iowa City, then will move to Elkader for Sept. 3 showings at 4 p.m. in the Elkader Cinema and 7:30 p.m. in the Elkader Opera House.

The Landlocked Film Festival offers many pieces in many places, but the centerpiece of the four-day event is the Iowa premiere of “16 to Life” at the Englert Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 29.

Known as “Duck Farm No. 13” to the folks around McGregor, where most of the footage was shot in October 2007, it’s flying under a new name and generating industry buzz, winning awards at Method Fest in California last spring.

But during the final phases of the nearly $1 million film, teenagers invited to test screenings just didn’t like the “Duck Farm” name, says director Becky Smith, 53, an Okoboji native now living and working in Los Angeles.

“It wasn’t hip to them,” she says. “They thought it was about farm life. As much as the adults liked the title, we needed to change it to make it accessible to teenagers, because a large part of the film is about teenagers.”

It’s a coming-of-age romantic comedy starring Hallee Hirsh, now 21. She’s been acting all her life, instantly recognizable as Tom Hanks’ much-younger aunt in “You’ve Got Mail” and Rachel Greene on “ER.”

She says this role eclipses all the others on her lengthy resume.

“It’s my absolute, most favorite thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “I can’t tell you how much I love the role, how much I love the script and how much I loved the actual event of shooting it.”

She took her character’s focus on China and its Cultural Revolution to heart. She traveled to China with Smith to present the film to university students in Beijing in May, and is now studying cultural anthropology at UCLA, including an intensive Chinese language immersion. She says she’ll probably live in China one day.

“This movie sparked that completely,” Hirsh says.

Both Smith and Hirsh are looking forward to the Iowa festival, seeing people with whom they worked, seeing audience reaction to the film and seeing the landscape again.

“My mother’s very favorite spot is McGregor,” Smith says. “With the rolling hills and big cliffs by the river, it’s really a stunning-looking place where Grant Wood painted. The people locally were as nice as you could possibly imagine.”

The festival, which runs Aug. 27 to 30 in several downtown Iowa City sites, also features topical workshops, panel discussions and screenings for more than 80 films, ranging in length from two minutes to two hours.

The festival’s creative director, Mary Blackwood, 52, of Iowa City, is especially proud of the new international component, offering more than three hours of Danish films.

“A lot of European countries have more support for their artists than the U.S. It’s great to get a sense of what’s happening in Denmark in the film industry, great to hear their point of view,” Blackwood says. “I’d love to do this yearly.”

Fast take

What: Landlocked Film Festival
When: Program start times: 7 to 10:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27; 1:15 to 10:30 p.m. Aug. 28; 11:45 a.m. to 10:10 p.m. Aug. 29; and noon to 7 p.m. Aug. 30
Where: Downtown Iowa City sites, including the Englert Theatre, Iowa City Public Library, Sheraton Iowa City and hotelVetro
Features: Film screenings, workshops, panel discussions
Admission: Free, except for $5 admission for Friday and Saturday evening films at the Englert, payable at the door
Information: www.landlockedfilmfestival.org
Iowa premiere: “16 to Life,” shot in Iowa in 2007, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 29, Englert; “green” carpet welcome festivities at 7 p.m.; for a sneak peek, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjQYsoMADqs
For more on the movie, go to www.16tolifethemovie.org
To read more from Gazette interviews with “16 to Life” star Hallee Hirsh and director Becky Smith, Landlocked’s creative director Mary Blackwood and “Shattercane” director Mike Tringe, go to Diana Nollen’s Art Scene blog, http://gazetteonline.com/blogs/art-scene

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