LANSING — An epic bike trip around Lake Superior inspired a new film that stars the Upper Peninsula.
“Superior” is a coming-of-age story: At the height of the Vietnam War, two boys experience their last summer together before adulthood. One is headed to a university. The other fears the fate of the draft. They bike 1,300 miles around Lake Superior, meeting a slew of interesting characters.
The story is loosely based on a 1971 bicycle adventure taken by filmmaker Edd Benda’s uncle, Karl Benda, and his friend Dan “Dudza” Juntilla. The film even uses the same bikes the pair rode and then tucked away in their garages many years ago.
“We didn’t even really have to look,” said Benda, who grew up in Birmingham.
Benda said he felt a responsibility and anxiety to stay true to “Up North” sensibilities. He employed mostly local actors and dug up antiques to give an honest representation of the period and place.
Local actors were an essential part of the project, Benda said. He worried the film would be missing out on quirky Up North culture without the inclusion of the “Yooper accent.” The local cast members barely had to act because they could play themselves, he said.
Memories from childhood trips allowed Benda to create a “patchwork cloak of all the stories” he heard growing up. He had spent many summers along the Michigan coast of Lake Superior, visiting his father’s eight siblings.
He left Michigan in 2009 to attend the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. That’s where he met movie co-director Alex Bell. The two founded Beyond the Porch Productions in 2012. “Superior” is their first feature film.
“I really believe in our movie,” Benda said. It’s a belief that stems from the hard work and dedication of the crew.
The 11-person production team traveled 7,000 miles from Los Angeles to Michigan and back. The group lived in a tiny cabin while filming on location for 21 days and bounced around to Benda’s relatives for occasional home-cooked meals.
Production went smoothly, except for when their generator occasionally went out while filming in the middle of the woods, Benda said. Obstacles aside, Benda said he was glad to be back in his home state.
“L.A. has its merits, but I love that this movie gives me an excuse to come back to Michigan,” he said. “The story belongs there.”
His advice to upcoming filmmakers: “You have to absorb the world you come from and tell stories from a place you call home.”
— Kayla Smith, Capital News Service
Grand Rapids — 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29 at the Wealthy Theatre.
Holland — 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3 at the Knick, Hope College.
East Lansing Film Festival — Nov. 6 and 7.
Bloomfield — 7:15 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9 at the Maple Theatre.