Sunday, April 17, 2011

Exodus Fall (Rhoades)

Taking Lunch: How a Key West-born Filmmaker Booked a Florida Premiere at the Tropic Cinema
 By Shirrel Rhoades

Matthew Helmerich and a young filmmaker named Michael Baumgarten have been trying for months to “take a lunch,” as they say in Hollywood. Their email correspondence documents these cross-country near misses.
“Hi, I’m a Conch (yes, actually born in Key West) who is in the movie business in Los Angeles,” Baumgarten initially introduced himself to Helmerich. “This Spring, we’d like to do a release of ‘Exodus Fall’ in my hometown of Key West! I was one of the producers of the movie and will be spearheading a limited theatrical release campaign leading up to the movie be sold by our sales agent at Cannes in May.”
As executive director of the Tropic Cinema, Helmerich was excited. He saw this as a perfect opportunity for the Tropic’s Meet the Filmmaker program, this time with a movie produced by a genuine Key Wester. “Thank you for your note,” he replied, tapping out the message on his laptop in the closet-sized office he maintains at the non-profit cinema. “‘Exodus Fall’ sounds amazing and, hell yes, we’d love to have a Key West premiere of it at Tropic Cinema.”
A play date was struck, April 21. Thursday of this coming week.
“Sounds as though we have lots of other stuff to talk about, too,” emailed Helmerich. He used to be in public relations and it shows with his ready smile and friendly demeanor. “I’m on my way to Utah now for the Sundance-affiliated Art House Convergence conference for independent cinemas.”
Turns out, Baumgarten was on his way to the bigger Sundance Film Festival. He suggested having that lunch.
 “Unfortunately, it’s too busy at the Tropic now for me to hang out in Park City for the film festival,” Helmerich apologized for his unavailability. “I’m back to Key West on Thursday.”
“Too bad you’re not staying long in Park City because I will be arriving there Sunday morning,” responded Baumgarten. “Would have liked to have treated you to lunch.”
But Matthew Helmerich was on the run. “I know you’ll have a great time. Wish I had the time to hang around. Can I take a rain check for that lunch in Key West?”
“Sounds good,” the young producer replied.
But travel got in the way. “On the road AGAIN this week,” Helmerich announced in a later email. “But I'll be back in Key West in early February. Wanna talk then?”
Baumgarten did. “Please let me know what dates the movie is playing so I can work out a schedule to be there. Need to book flights.”
“We have got your premiere – Florida premiere, right? – scheduled for the evening of Thursday, April 21 in our big auditorium and we’re going to talk about a week-long run in a smaller theater,” confirmed Helmerich.
It was booked. Without taking a lunch.
The trailer for “Exodus Fall” – the feature film that Michael Baumgarten helped produce – describes it as “a coming-of-age movie for the entire family.”
It is that. And more.
Set in 1974 Texas, the film tells about three runaway teenagers on a 1362-mile road trip to their grandmother’s house in Oregon.
“My mother was never really a happy woman,” says older brother Kenneth Minor (played by young star Jesse James).
I pray every night for God to strike Mama dead in her sleep,” admits younger sister Charlotte (Adrien Finkel).
“God doesn’t kill someone just cause you say a prayer,” admonishes Ken.
“You never know,” she replies.
An abusive alcoholic, their mother (Rosanna Arquette) has sent autistic brother Dana (Devon Graye) to a mental facility where he’ll be experimented on.
So Ken and his sister crank up the dilapidated blue station wagon that belonged to their father (Christopher Atkins), rescue Dana, and set out on an exodus to Oregon.
The movie opens with the station wagon broken down in the middle of a chalk-white desert where a mysterious stranger (Alexander Carroll) meets up with them. They decide to give him a lift, recognizing a man on a mission of his own.
The scenery passes like picture postcards – grasslands, lakes, the Grand Canyon, long curving highways – as the siblings grow wiser with the help of their fellow traveler, Travis. “If you’re too busy getting where you’re going you’ll never appreciate where you are,” he tells them.
For a “kids on the lam” movie, “Exodus Fall” takes its leisurely time in telling the story. Unfolding through the eyes of older brother Kenneth, it focuses mostly on the plight of Dana. He’s a “special magic boy” who carries his Mary Poppins bag (“It contains everything we need just when we need it…”) and a water jar with a tiny fish.
Kenneth comments about their old station wagon, “It doesn’t back up, but we don’t need to back up anyway.” And the siblings don’t, plunging ahead toward the safe haven in Oregon.
“Exodus Fall” was written by Chad Waterhouse, who co-directed it with Ankush Kohli. This was the first film for both.
Michael Baumgarten brought know-how as line producer. After Key West, he’d settled in Orlando where he got involved in film and television productions around Disney/MGM Studios and Universal Studios Florida. Later, he headed to Los Angeles where he was a script reader at a Century City film finance company, then a director of acquisitions for Legacy Releasing.
In the fall of 1999, Baumgarten created and produced a feature called “Wild Roomies.” He went on to direct two film festival shorts, “Principal Don” and “10:30 Check-Out.” Then he served as associate producer on “Final Approach” starring Eric Roberts; “Faith Happens”; and “The Last Sentinel” starring Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Keith David.
In between those projects, he co-wrote, produced, and directed two horror movies, “Monster Mountain” and “Last Call Before Sunset.”
Movie star handsome, Baumgarten also plays the minor role of a detective in “Exodus Fall.”
While we noted that “Exodus Fall” was being billed as a coming-of-age film, it is certainly that for its actors. Now a tad older, Jesse James played the young Johnny Depp in “Blow.” Devon Graye played the young Michael C. Hall in TV’s “Dexter.” Christopher Atkins played Brooke Shields’ young partner in “Blue Lagoon.” And Dee Wallace who played the iconic mom in “E.T.” is the grandmother in “Exodus Fall.”
As for Michael Baumgarten, he too feels he’s come of age since his boyhood in Key West. “Later in 2011, a boy and dog movie I wrote and produced called ‘Smitty’ will be hitting theatres,” he says in a recent email to Matthew Helmerich. “The movie stars 2-time Oscar-nominee Peter Fonda, Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino, and Oscar-winner Louis Gossett, Jr.”
Almost as an afterthought, he adds, “I'm hoping to film a drama in Key West during 2011 and would like to include the characters catching a movie there as part of the story.”
Hmm, decides Matthew Helmerich, there is much to talk about. Better take that lunch when Michael Baumgarten returns home to Key West.

[from Solares Hill]
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