|Rain in the Mountains Press Coverage|
OLYMPIA — In 1999, Joel Metlen was one of four members of a film club at North Thurston High School and loved to catch flicks at the Olympia Film Society's Capitol Theater.
On Tuesday, his new feature-length film shot in Thurston and Lewis counties, "Rain in the Mountains," plays at the theater during the 24th annual Olympia Film Festival. It has been a whirlwind eight years for Metlen — completing film school at New York University, marrying his film's co-director and taking his place in Olympia's independent film scene.
"There's definitely always been an artistic culture here," he said.
Such localism is well represented in the festival, which kicked off Friday night and runs through the early hours of Nov. 11. In addition to Metlen's film, a collection of short films from South Sound will be featured Nov. 10.
"I've been excited by the variety I see here in town and the excitement I see around it," said Dustin Kaspar, festival programmer. Bridget Irish, curator of the local shorts program, said Olympia has a strong film community of people who often star in each other's movies.
Metlen, 27, grew up on Foxhall Drive in northern Thurston County. It's now the namesake of his production company, Foxhall Pictures. He lives in New York City with his 26-year-old wife, Christine, who co-directed "Rain in the Mountains."
But his inspiration came from here. His love for movies bloomed in high school when a photography teacher hooked him on the idea of telling stories with pictures. "I learned this was a medium that I really enjoyed," he said. "I was able to communicate with the audience much better than any art form I'd done before."
As Metlen and his high school friends shot movies around town, he gained material to help him get into NYU.
"I never even owned a video camera," he said. "But all my friends did."
One of Metlen's fellow high-schoolers, Bryan Connolly, is based here and has made films for years, Irish said. Connolly also stars in "Rain in the Mountains" as FBI agent No. 1.
For Metlen, his continued experimentation with short films paid off. He won a $100,000 grant from NYU in 2004 that allowed him to start shooting his feature-length film. As it turned out, being from Olympia was about to come in handy again.
Metlen had South Sound-area friends help him match locations with his screenplay, whether it was an antique gas station outside of Centralia or the banks of the Nisqually River.
The latter is where he proposed marriage.
As a result of the local help, the filmmakers didn't have to put together their own costly sets, hard to do in a $125,000 production.
"We need all the help we can get for free," Metlen said.
Casting was done at the Olympia Film Society office. The actors are amateurs picked from people who responded to advertisements.
The movie was shot in July and August 2005.
Metlen's movie tells the story of Eric Smallhouse, an American Indian whose chance encounter with a spirit leads him to try to lead his people back to their old ways — except he doesn't know the old ways. Comedy ensues in his attempt to learn them.
Filmmaking doesn't pay the bills for Joel — not yet anyway. He works as a senior project manager for the city of New York's parks department. Filmmaking is a labor of love.
Kaspar said it's a film for the community to rally around.
Choosing the movie was "kind of a no-brainer," he said. "It was from here, and it was good."