Rain in the Mountains Press Coverage
"Nisqually River runs through it"
September 23, 2005
Nisqually Valley News
BY Cindy Teixeira

As movie locations go, Yelm isn’t a frequent choice, but Olympia native Joel Metlen picked the area to shoot scenes for his feature-length movie.

Metlen, 24, and his crew of 10 met on an early Monday morning in August on the banks of the water below the Centralia Power Hydroelectric Power Plant on the west side of town. He said he spent time there as a child and wanted to use the site for his movie. Metlen’s family used the spot as a starting point to go canoeing on the Nisqually River.

“It’s an awesome stretch of river,” he said. “We’d always see something, raccoons, bald eagles, deer, all along the shore.”

Unfortunately, he dind’t get any of those “awesome” animals in any of the shots, because, he said, “I think we made too much noise down there.”

Tentatively titled, “Rain in the Mountains,” Metlen and crew began shooting scenes in July, but production and location scouting began more than a year ago.

Metlen received a grant from New York University to help finance his movie. Competition for the annual grant, which is awarded to NYU alumni, is “pretty tough,” he said. The judging panel selects winners based on a script, a sample of previous work, and the likelihood that the movie will actually be made.

Operating as Foxhall Films, Metlen is collaborating with Christine Sullivan and friends he met while attending the film school. The script is developed from Metlen’s experiences when he traced his Native American ancestry. The result is a family comedy about a Native American father who attempts to teach his 12-year-old son the ways of the past.

What occurs is a series of misadventures.

“Everything that can go wrong, goes wrong,” Metlen said as he and his crew prepared to walk down a steep trail to the shores of the power canal.

Though the father character can’t do anything right and seems like a loser, “you can’t help but like him,” said co-director Sullivan.

The cast is composed of non-professional actors from Washington and neighboring states. Flyers and announcements were sent out to reservations and posted in reservation newspapers asking those interested to audition for the movie.

“The responses from the actors were great.” Sullivan said. “The tribes are really excited about it and will help” get the movie exposed to audiences.

But even though the characters are Native American, the story is more about the father/son relationship, she said.

Steve Pierre, from the Kalispel reservation near Spokane, answered the call. Metlen said he knew Pierre was his leading man when he looked into Pierre’s eyes. Pierre became Eric Smallhouse, “an energetic and loving father.”

Pierre said he thought he’d get a part as an extra and didn’t expect to get the lead. He was an extra in the feature film Dante’s Peak, but his scene wound up on the cutting room floor.

“One of the directors wanted me in the movie and the other one didn’t,” Pierre explained.

Monday’s scenes were of the father teaching his son to fish. Mishaps occurred and Pierre’s expressions of genuine surprise and chagrin during filming proved Metlen’s choice for the lead was the right one.

Pierre said he was having so much fun that he wished he’d started in the movie business sooner.

“I have found I enjoy assuming someone else’s persona,” he said. Unlike the character he plays, however, Pierre said he knows a lo about the ways of his ancestors. When he was six, his grandmother gave him his Native American name, Red Heart. She named him after his grandfather, who was greatly respected by the boy.

When he was 12, Pierre told his father he was going to find his spiritual leader, which involved fasting in the wilderness for three days, but his father wouldn’t let him go, he said.

His father prepared him for the outside world in a different way, Pierre said, because he knew when his son went to public school, things would get rough – and they did.

My grandfather was a very wise man,” Pierre said, “and my father was wise too.”

Public school was rocky, but a wonderful first grade teacher and high school principal helped him through, he said.

The prejudice he experienced in real life is not directly addressed in the movie, Pierre said, but it’s rather a story about an “urban Indian trying to be a reservation Indian,” and could be about any father and son.

When we pray, Steve said, we pray to the four directions and to four colors, the colors of all mankind.

“There is good and bad in any nation,” he said. “People are people.”

Nick Erb of Omak, plays Todd Smallhouse, “Eric’s loyal son.” He turned 13 while filming the movie. He said his mother read about the film in a tribal paper and asked him if he wanted to try out for it. She gathered information about him and sent it in. It is his first movie and he said he likes it “fine.” His oldest brother, Shawn Belgearde, accompanies him to the set.

Nancy Games of Yelm was also supposed to be in the movie. She saw the announcement in a tribal newspaper and auditioned from the character of tribal council member one. She had about four lines, she said. Her time in front of the camera should have been one of the last shots in the movie, but the ending of the movie had to be changed.

Pierre suffered a stroke shortly before the final scenes of the movie were to be shot. Metlen rewrote the few scenes left and the main story of the movie remained intact.

Other characters in the movie include a loving wife, a few best friends, a grumpy man, a store owner and a couple of FBI agents.

Also, a dead man, described as a “mischievous figure with dubious supernatural powers,” is being played by Joseph C. Heldman of Spokane.

Assistant camera man John Ott said that the film’s budget – if all the volunteer time and contributions were included – might run about $1 million.

“We are thankful we were able to get as much as we did of Steve and his wonderful performance,” said Ott.

Editing will not be complete until next year, Metlen said, but Sullivan is writing the script for Foxhall’s next project, a thriller.