Locally filmed movie 'Love and Honor' to premiere at the Michigan Theater
From Ann Arbor to Hollywood and back again, film director Danny Mooney is in town to promote the U.S. theatrical release of his locally set, locally shot independent feature film "Love and Honor".
You can see it at the Michigan Theater, March 29 through April 4. A "premiere" celebration will be held on April 2, starting at 7 p.m.
Before he was the director of "Love and Honor," The Pioneer High School graduate teamed up with fellow University of Michigan graduate Eddie Rubin (executive producer) and started Deep Blue Pictures. After graduating, the pair reconnected with their U-M screenwriting professor Jim Burnstein, who wrote the movie's screenplay with L.A.-based partner Garrett Schiff. And that is how the ball got rolling to make the original script of "AWOL" into a feature film.
In "Love and Honor," Ann Arbor is "one of the main characters," Mooney says. U-M and Ann Arbor's historical role as a center of anti-war protests and campus activism during Vietnam helps move the story along.
Two soldiers (Austin Stowell and Liam Hemsworth) go AWOL from Vietnam and pursue romance with U-M students (Aimee Teegarden and Teresa Palmer). The two young men navigate 1960's UM campus culture, while trying to stay under the radar as "deserters."
Woven into the plot line, real events that happened in Ann Arbor at the time are portrayed. In the most dramatic, bedlam ensues on South University after a protest turns into a riot involving police intervention.
The presence of a John Sinclair-like character; a passionate speech performed by Detroit hip-hop artist Michael Ellison, who portrays a Black Panther Party member; and other moments capture some of the vibe of what went down in Ann Arbor in 1969.
"There are literally photos that we found in our research that we put directly into little moments of the movie. Whether it be a protester being dragged by a cop in a certain manner or the way the cops were lined up, we tried to keep it as close as possible," Mooney says.
One thing that they changed about the riot scene proves reality is stranger than fiction. The sheriff, according to Mooney's review of the old photos, "was out in pajamas in the middle of a riot with a shot gun," he says. However, they decided to leave that strange detail out of the movie. Mooney worried people would not believe that it was real. "If you put that in a movie, people might call B.S. But in this case, it really happened!" he laughs.
So far, Mooney has been happy with the feedback he has gotten from Vietnam vets and today's generation of soldiers. "Our male leads really took playing soldiers to heart. They realized that they weren't just playing a role in the movie, they were representing an important group of people. They sat down with Vietnam vets here in Michigan to talk and hear their stories. And we had a lot of Vietnam vets on the set," he says.
In a moment of serendipity, Mooney got to feel what it is like to protest for something firsthand. "We were filming when the Michigan's film incentives were on the chopping blocks. It was the first time in my life when I had to go out and be a part of a political movement. I found myself, a few times a week, up at the capital doing rallies, speaking, picketing, and marching," he says. "It was what we were portraying in the scenes we were about to shoot. I found myself wandering right into it."
After opening to audiences overseas first, "Love and Honor" is starting its theatrical run in selected U.S. cities. It opened in New York and L.A. Friday, March 22. Before that, DirectTV did a 2-week exclusive release in February, and the love story was pre-released on Valentine's Day for rental in the digital markets—on demand and on video platforms such iTunes, Amazon, Google Play.
But the best way to watch this locally filmed movie is to go see it at the Michigan Theater, March 29 through April 4.
On Tuesday, April 2, a big "premiere" screening will be held in the gorgeous Main Theater, at 7 p.m. It will feature a panel discussion with Mooney, Rubin, and Burnstein.
While he is here promoting his breakthrough feature film, Mooney and other filmmakers are visiting a number of area high school classes, theater guilds, and UM classes. Mooney wants to share his journey with aspiring filmmakers and actors. He started his career on Pioneer High School's stage.
"When I was a student at U-M, we first showed our films at the Michigan Theater. So, it just feels right for me that they are screening the movie there," Mooney says. And going back to Pioneer's auditorium is especially cool for him because he started his career when he joined the school's improv troupe.