Local talent wins half of Sundial Festival best film awards

Richard DuPertuis
Cast and crew of the film 'Nathan's Story,' winner of the Best Narrative entry in the Sundial Film Festival, arrive at the Cascade Theater in the same taxicab featured in the movie. Pictured, from left to right, are: Maegan Ricketts, Steve Killey, director Roger Kagle with daughter Amanda, producer/lead Stacie Luann, and casting director Brian Quaife.

Mount Shasta area actors' entries received two out of four of the best films in their categories at the Sundial Film Festival Saturday. Winning the Best Student Film was “Slime Flu,” by the 6th to 8th grade class of Castle Rock Elementary School. Taking Best Narrative was “Nathan's Story,” a locally-produced short exploring the physical and emotional damage from war.

Local artists did not carry off the top honors for the Best Animation and Best Documentary categories.

Locally-produced, in this case, refers to the Redding area, and to a casting company there run by a woman named Stacie, whose involvement in both winning projects was pivotal.

Stacie's last name depends on which production is named. For “Nathan's Story,” she is producer and lead actress Stacie Luann, but she is teacher Stacie Ricketts for the Castle Rock class she guided through the making of “Slime Flu.”

“'Slime Flu' was inspired by the out break of H1N1,” Ricketts wrote in a press release. “The students thought it would be good to help lighten the mood by doing a parody on it.” They came up with the Castle Rock Underground Spy Association that helps save the school from an evil scientist that infects the students with a virus. Instead of giving the students flu shots he switches the shot with a virus. In the end, the student in class tormented for being too brainy finds the cure.

As Luann, Stacie not only played a big part in the production of “Nathan's Story,” she also enlisted a young Mount Shasta actor named Sean Monaghan, who has a brief but intense scene as an insurgent shot dead by a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. This was not the first time that Luann and Monaghan had worked together.

“I met Stacie in 2006, and I took a talent development course from her,” Monaghan said during a phone interview Sunday. “When I finished, I ended up doing a commercial, my first speaking part and first paying job.”

Nor was his work with Luann his first effort at acting. “Ever since the 5th grade, that's when I really got into theater, I've had the acting bug,” he said. At Mount Shasta High School, he became involved in several productions every semester, appearing in such plays as “A Pirate's Life for Me,” “Life is a Dream,” and “A Midsummer Night's Dream.”

He said that playing a part in a movie opened up a whole new door for him. “I never knew what film was like, because I was so used to the theater,” he said. “Seeing how the whole process worked was just a phenomenon to me.”

“Nathan's Story,” screened for the first time Saturday night. It begins with a woman, Luann, climbing into a taxicab, which she quickly realizes is driven by the man with whom she had an affair while her husband was fighting overseas. He disappeared on her without a word some time back, and she is shocked to see him.

His story is an explanation of sorts. He was also a soldier in Afghanistan, and he tells of her husband's death in a gun battle there. That finished it for him, his buddy and his buddy's wife. Director Roger Slagle, in contrast to the quick edits of so many other of the entries shown at the festival, filmed long takes of people moving slowly and meaningfully through life, and passing slowly and painfully into death.

Said Luann, “It was a good community project, shot mostly in Redding. We had 15 – 20 volunteers.” She said that it took six months to shoot the 18-minute short, which to her was a labor of love. “It was a way to express my creativity,” she said. “I love to be able to put a picture in someone's mind that will be with them forever.”

Monaghan said that his next film, “The Secret of Wilson Hill,” also written and directed by Slagle, is in post-production, and that its release is being targeted for the 2012 Sundial Film Festival. He added that he was confident that Luann would call him for more work in the future. Asked what his acceptance speech might be if he had won Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars for “Nathan's Story,” Monaghan wrote in an email:

“I know I would not have come this far today without the help of my parents, my entire family, my casting director, my manager, and my friends. When I first started in this business many new doors opened for me, and I went through each one simply doing what was placed in front of me. Each time I went through one of those doors, more opportunities became possible. I encourage everyone to pursue their dreams, and because you love it, you will be good at it and that makes anything possible.”

Castle Rock Elementary School admin, alumnus, faculty and a player pose proudly in the lobby of the Cascade Theater after winning Best Student Film in the Sundial Film Festival. Pictured are school principal Mark Telles, Joshua Ricketts, teacher Stacie Ricketts and Christina Gonzales, who appeared in the winning entry, "Slime Flu."