By Brian Mittge
Downtown Chehalis looked a lot like Hollywood Saturday. Throngs waiting for the world premier of the locally made film “The Immigrant Garden” craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the stars of the movie as the actors made a grand entrance from polished cars down a red carpet into the Chehalis Theater. Local residents turned out in force for the $25-a-ticket charity screening benefiting the Southwest Washington Dance Center. Capacity crowds filled the theater, and citizen reviews were glowing for what is believed to be the first full length film shot and produced entirely in Southwest Washington.
“I absolutely loved it. There were parts that moved me to tears,” said Darlene Held, co-owner of Book ‘n Brush in downtown Chehalis. “It really did generate a lot of emotion. It’s great for Chehalis.” Although several commented that the film’s theme would appeal more to women, both genders applauded the local flavor of the movie, much of which was shot in Centralia’s historic Borst Home. “I loved it” said Larry Hweitt, Napavine, whose son played a minor role in the film “It made me cry. The ending was wonderful.” “No one films rural Western Washington, and the scenery was awesome,” he added.
The film set in Oakville in 1910 follows a 17-year-old Cecily Barnes, played by Onalaskan Angela Johnson, as she nurtures her flower seeds into an “immigrant garden.” A chance encounter with “Mrs. Beauchamp’s Heirloom Seeds” leads to blossoming within Barnes as she comes to terms with her deceased mother, whom she had never known. Beauchamp’s wisdom-laiden letters provide framework for the seasons of growth, romance and change in a year of Barnes’ life. Johnson lead in the film, attended the film with her parents. “I’m in a surreal state right now,” she said before the public screening. “Wow.” The movie is the first major project completed by Northwest Film Projects, a Chehalis company run by former Hollywood producer C. Tad Devlin. The company is currently working on a documentary about the World War II-era B-17 Bomber, and has already completed a fundraising video for the Lewis County chapter of United Way.
During remarks to the audience before the movie, Devlin gave credit to the workers who acted in, produced and edited the film. “This film was made by your friends and neighbors, not me,” he said, standing along side dozens of formally dressed cast and crew members.
The screenplay was written by Caroline Wood, who originally presented a version of the screenplay at a film class put on by Devlin at Centralia College. He liked the original, and asked her to bring back more pages. It quickly grew into a full length movie script, Devlin told theatergoers. Wood has since turned her script into a novel that takes the story to England to visit Mrs. Beauchamp, she said. Wood herself is an immigrant, having come from England when she was 10 years old. The original “Immigrant Garden” written 10 years ago for the stage, was her first play and has since been performed in New York. The film version was completed on a shoestring over a two-year period.
The entire project cost less than the low-budget hit “The Blair Witch Project,” Devlin told the audience before the 3 o’clock showing. Actual filming and production cost $57,000, he said, but the post-production work was the great expense at $729,000. “I’d like to thank my Mastercard for making this movie possible,” Devlin joked. Later he said he would need to sell the movie for at least $1.5 million in order to break even. The next task is to enter the movie into film festivals and try to find a distributor, Devlin said. “My wife and I will put the projector in the front of our car and tour the country with it if we have to,” he vowed. The movie could go directly to video, but if it is released to theaters , Devlin said, it would be shown again at the Chehalis Theater. He hopes to find a buyer by this fall. “I think it’s the kind of film that TV should be showing,” he said “With 500 channels, I don’t want 500 reruns or ‘L Love Lucy.’ ” Although it was called a premier, the audience was essentially treated to a preview of a work still slightly in progress, Devlin said. “We still need to work on sound, but the story is there, the picture is there, the actors are there,” Devlin said. Questionnaires were distributed after the movie, and comments would be used as a final edits are made to the movie, he said. “This will not be the finished film. This will affect how the finished film looks,” he said.