Patrons praise locally shot movie 'Conviction' on its opening day in Ann Arbor
Because so many films have been shot in Michigan in recent years, an experience that's becoming more and more common lately is to hear, while watching a movie at the multiplex, someone in the crowd say, "There we are!"
And indeed, that's precisely what happened at the Quality 16's 9:35 p.m. showing of "Conviction" on Friday — the first day the film was screened in Ann Arbor, despite having opened in Detroit area theaters last weekend and elsewhere the weekend before that.
Shot in early 2009, "Conviction" used locations in Chelsea, Dexter, Ypsilanti, and Ann Arbor (among other places) as backdrops. Starring Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank, Minnie Driver, Sam Rockwell, and Juliette Lewis, the film tells the true story of a waitressing Boston mother who, when her brother is sentenced to life in a prison for a crime she doesn't believe he committed, spends years earning a college degree and a law degree in order to work toward her brother's release.
Locals are sure to spot familiar haunts in "Conviction" — Ypsi's Sidetrack and Roy's, and Chelsea's Stivers, to name a few examples —Â as well as professional local actors who've appeared on stages in the area: John Lepard plays a priest, Sarab Kamoo plays a forensics expert witness, etc. But you might even be surprised by spotting someone you know as an extra. (At one point, I thought, "Hey, there's a guy I know from the University of Michigan Marching Band!")
Of course, two extras were the ones who'd exclaimed "There we are!" during Friday's screening: Dexter's Ann and Dan Vencil. Longtime members of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Dexter — where the scene in which they briefly appear was shot — the couple volunteered when someone in the parish announced that the film team sought extras.
And after one long, cold day of filming (the doors of the church were kept open throughout the winter day), and a near-collision with the film's star ("I turned around and she was right there," said Dan Vencil of Swank), the couple was invited back to work as extras on an additional scene.
"It was supposed to be at the admissions office of college, and they filmed it at Dexter High School," said Ann Vencil. "But it was cut. They cut that right out."
Two friends of the couple tagged along to see the Vencils' screen debut, including Ypsilanti's Joanne Marbut, who had nothing but praise for the "Conviction."
"It was so well done," said Marbut. "It was so well paced. I liked it because it doesn’t have that feeling of a fluffy, flip movie, Â with a fake emotional moment where the music swells and we’re all supposed to feel something. It’s not forced. It’s just a nice, even-paced story, and we’re allowed to feel what we want to feel as we go along."
Similarly, the movie exceeded the Vencils' expectations. "We just saw snippets, so we weren’t sure how it’d come out," Dan Vencil said.
"I thought maybe it would be a little boring throughout because it’s almost a documentary type thing," said Ann Vencil.
"But it wasn't," said Marbut. "It kept you wanting more."
Friday night's 9:35 p.m. screening at Quality 16 only drew 30-odd patrons, but the Vencils and Marbut didn't think this was necessarily a barometer for the film's future success.
"I think once people hear about it — I think it’s one of those films that, you’re not sure, so at first, it doesn’t get a lot of attention," Ann Vencil said. "But as time goes on and the word spreads, it’ll get bigger audiences."