BY KATE MILEWSKI
TRAVERSE CITY — David Marek's "Somewhere West" makes its northern Michigan premier Oct. 30 at the State Theatre.
The Traverse City area native wrote, produced and directed the film, which features footage taken around the region.
"It's pretty autobiographical," said Marek. "It was a long road, basically 3,000 miles, partially based on when I moved from Traverse City to Boulder (Colo.) Some of the events and locations were taken from that journey, inspiration- and location-wise."
"Somewhere West" follows terminally ill Ian — cancer isn't autobiographical — on his final journey to find a solitary and beautiful place to die. Marek began the story as his master's thesis project at film school. Now he's filmmaker in residence at Interlochen Arts Academy and who grew up in Silver Lake.
"One of my main interests in producing films in general is dealing with issues of the spirit," he said. "To have a character who was grappling with his own mortality, viewing the world and nature through a lens of time being precious and short. That and I'm just generally in love with road trips, driving and landscape."
It was a good thing he enjoyed being on the road. To make "Somewhere West," Marek and the rest of his nine-person cast and crew covered almost 5,000 miles. They filmed the entire movie in 30 days, stopping to shoot scenes (in chronological order, something almost unheard-of in cinema) and sleep, rewriting scenes in the back of the RV as they rolled down the open road. While this style of filmmaking definitely had its challenges, it helped shape the movie into the story it is today.
"It had an interesting effect. It got the actors to sort of identify with the characters in a very literal way," Marek said. "It was a little bit of a social experiment.
"At the end of the day, there was no going home. The weariness of the road that the characters were experiencing was the weariness we were experiencing. It was parallel and inseparable."
The almost-forced kind of method acting wasn't the only challenge this intrepid group faced. Working with natural landscapes can prove to be challenging, since Mother Nature doesn't always have your perfect shot in mind.
"We'd show up, see the environment we had, respond to the weather and any other sort of unusual circumstance," he said. "There were other people, other elements that were unanticipated. We'd accept them, adapt, relock and re-write our scene accordingly, shoot it very quickly, jump back in the RV and travel on."
Marek used Google Earth to find places he'd been to when he made the long haul from Traverse City to Boulder for film school 10 years ago.
"It was an interesting, unique experience, showing up to these places I had a fuzzy memory of from 10 years earlier and seeing the changes," he said.
When the film was shot and edited, he began to send it to film festivals to try to have his project screened.
"I received I think 21 rejections before I got into my first festival," he said. "There's a sort of bittersweetness to every festival you may get into. It's very hard, you have to toughen your skin."
And some of the festivals who accepted the movie gave it high honors. It has taken six feature film awards so far, he said.
"It's very encouraging, I'm very pleased, especially for the cast and crew," Marek said. "None of us were compensated financially, so you are working for recognition, working to have hard work recognized."
But coming home to show his film to friends, family and students at the State is almost a prize in itself.
"It's really amazing," he said. "To see my work brought to life on that huge screen at the State is sort of surreal. To sit in the theater with the community I grew up with, to present it to my family and friends and local community is a very profound, humbling and inspiring experience for me."
"Somewhere West" will premier at 6 p.m. Oct. 30 at the State Theatre. Marek will be there with local cast and crew members to introduce the film and talk with the audience after the screening.
Advance tickets are available at the State Theatre or visit www.statetheatretc.com.