UWindsor graduates Melissa Maestre (r.) Brian Khan (l.) are among other alumni and current students who lent their talents to Stillwater, a short film directed and co-written by professor Min Bae (center).UWindsor graduates Melissa Maestre (r.) Brian Khan (l.) are among other alumni and current students who lent their talents to Stillwater, a short film directed and co-written by professor Min Bae (center).

UWindsor production crew keeps the 1920s roaring with new film

Students and grads recently pooled their talents to help UWindsor film professor and movie director Min Bae produce Stillwater – a short film which Bae says is rich in Essex County history.

The crew transformed the streets of Amherstburg for a fictional take on the true history of the prohibition era.

“I called up my students, some of whom are working in film related jobs in Toronto, and they re-arranged their schedules to come back and make this movie,” says Bae.

“Three quarters of the crew is made up of former UWindsor film students, and the rest are mainly current students.”

While Bae was driving through Windsor’s east end, the strong smell of liquor production at Hiram Walker got him thinking about Windsor’s other historical industry. He says he was further motivated to make a movie after reading, The Rumrunners: A Prohibition Scrapbook, by UWindsor English professor and former Windsor Star journalist, Marty Gervais.

After scouting locations, the crew settled on filming the outdoor scenes in Amherstburg. They needed community support and Bae says the locals saw the film as positive publicity for the area.

“We needed at least 80 per cent of the downtown businesses to agree to the shooting, and we got 100 per cent. When we shot the outdoor market scene, about 20 locals showed up wearing 1920s style clothing, ready to be extras.”

Brian Khan, a 2014 honours graduate of the Communications, Media and Film program, former student of Bae’s, and a producer on Stillwater, says the crew wanted to tell a local story that locals would be interested in watching.

“Min taught us all in school and now he’s teaching us through this independent production. No longer does a mistake mean a bad grade, a mistake means we can’t do the project or we hurt the project.”

Other alumni to lend their talents to Stillwater include: Nick Cacciato (BSc. ‘88, BA ’92, BEd ‘96), who now teaches at St. Clair College and is the executive producer; Maria Cusumano (Hons. BA ‘14), who co-wrote the script with Bae; Svjetlana Oppen (BSc ‘12, Hons. BA ‘14), who is director of photography; Cherry Theresanathan (Hons. BA ‘14), who is assistant camera operator; and Orlando D’Souza (Hons. BA ‘14), who is the dolly grip operator.

Danielle MacKinnon, technical and production coordinator in the School of Dramatic Arts, is the movie’s art director and Bae says he is incredibly grateful to Tina Pugliese, Director of the School of Dramatic, for both giving MacKinnon the time to work on the film and for helping with props and set design. 

“There are just so many wonderful people connected with the University who are helping out with this independent production. It is really a nice collaboration between the dramatic arts and the film school, as well as St. Clair College.”

Melissa Maestre just graduated this year and juggled both her internship with Big Brother Canada and her job as office production assistant on a Toronto-based medical drama, to do the set dressing and makeup for Stillwater.

“It’s been like a reunion with my film family back together again,” she says.

“Min is giving us a lot of experience with real world equipment and this is such a great opportunity for my resume and career.”

Maestre says she did a lot of research to make sure the wigs and hair are all authentic to the 1920s.

“The Amherstburg community is great too. Some of the locals arrived on set with their make-up already done with the glamourous look of the time, with heavy eyeliner and really pink cheeks.”

Bae says he would like Stillwater to make the film festival circuit, including a premiere at WIFF, and would eventually like to spin the film into feature length – adding gangsters to the mix.

“Obviously I am not in this for the money,” he says.

“It is important as an educator to not just teach theory in a classroom. If I do this as my own work, they can see the limitations of a real project - from the budget, to renting quality equipment, to scheduling.”

The 10-day shoot wrapped up this week, with a fundraiser planned at the Walkerville Brewery for Tuesday, June 30.  Tickets are $50.

For photos of the outdoor market scene being shot on Murray Street in downtown Amherstburg, read The Windsor Star article, http://blogs.windsorstar.com/entertainment/murray-street-in-amherstburg-turned-into-1920s-backdrop-for-short-film.