|Rain in the Mountains Press Coverage|
OMAK — Nicholas Erb wouldn’t mind getting a summer job like the one he had two years ago.
It was the summer of 2005, and the Omak teenager went to live on the Chehalis Indian Reservation near Oakville to play the role of Todd Smallhouse in “Rain in the Mountains.” It’s a low-budget film with amateur actors that’s been showing at film festivals around the country this spring. And already, it’s making a splash.
In June, the film was selected as one of 12 feature finalists to be shown Sept. 7-9 at the Moondance International Film Festival in Hollywood. The festival is a top venue for promoting new movies. In March, it won best comedy at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival in Buffalo, N.Y. And Nick, who was 13 when it was filmed, won best supporting actor at the April 20-22 Top Ten Films in America Festival in Fries, Va.
Now 15, Nick Erb is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation, and just graduated from eighth grade at Paschal Sherman Indian School near Omak. Another member of the Colville tribes, Audrey Seymour of Inchelium, plays his mother in the film and won best actress at the same festival.
Shown in eight festivals since February, “Rain in the Mountains” is about a middle-aged American Indian man named Eric Smallhouse who moves back to the reservation with his wife and son — played by Seymour and Erb — and becomes convinced he was destined to lead his people back to the “old ways.”
The problem is, Smallhouse doesn’t know the old ways. His efforts lead to a series of comical failures, and the eventual realization that the old ways weren’t so easy.
Filming suffered a setback when lead actor Steve Pierre, who plays Eric Smallhouse, suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak. The film’s directors, Joel Metlen and Christine Sullivan, rewrote several scenes while sitting in a hospital waiting room, dropping a few scenes and adding a few that wouldn’t need their lead actor.
A native of Olympia and a 2003 graduate of New York University, Metlen won a $100,000 grant from NYU’s Richard Vague Film Production Fund for Alumni to make the movie.
Nick says he earned about as much as he would have made in a regular summer job, only he spent it all before he came home. He and his family held fundraisers to cover his expenses.
Like the part he plays, Nick is modest and somewhat reserved when asked about the acting experience.
Of the film’s outcome: “It was better than I expected,” Nick says.
And of winning best supporting actor, “It was exciting,” he says.
His favorite parts of the film are when he and his “dad” were running from the FBI, and when they went fishing at the river. Their characters plan to eat only what they catch, hunt or gather, but neither turns down a sandwich offered by Nick’s “mom,” Lindsay Smallhouse.
Nick’s real mom, Mildred Erb, saw an ad in the Colville Tribal Tribune seeking actors, and sent in a résumé and photo of her son without telling him.
“I never dreamed he would get an audition even,” she explains.
He did, and they drove to Olympia in mid-winter to try out for the part. Erb says there were 30 other American Indian kids trying out for the same role, so when they asked Nick to come back the next week for a second read, she had to level with them.
“It was the dead of winter, and you know how the passes are. They wanted us to come back again, so I said to them, ‘We’re coming 450 miles to get here, so if this is not going anywhere, we need to know now,’ ” she says.
But they assured her Nick was their top choice to play Todd.
“They said I walked away with the role,” Nick recalls.
Then came the hard part. Nick had to memorize about 500 lines — or 50 pages, most of it responses to his father’s questions or antics. Mildred Erb says she was probably more nervous than her son, who had no trouble remembering his lines.
Nick recalls how they filmed the movie with only one camera, how they got stopped by a cop while they were on their way to shoot a scene near a dam, and how they had to wear the same clothes when they were shooting the same scene the next day — down to the same shoes.
“I’ve still got the same shoes I wore in the movie,” Nick says.
In an e-mail to The Wenatchee World, director Joel Metlen writes that he’s hoping to get the film into a few more festivals before the end of the year. After that, he’ll look for a company to promote it, and then wait to see if anyone is interested in releasing the movie in theaters, on DVD or on television.
“We are very excited that the film and its actors have won a number of awards! It’s the best thing in the world to know that people enjoy and appreciate our work and our actors’ work,” he writes, adding, “Nick and Audrey did a great job, and they definitely deserve the recognition that they’ve received.”
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