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Southern Circuit plugs in to 2016

When filmmakers Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden first encountered Peter Anton, they could not have foreseen that they were about to embark on an eight-year odyssey to bring his story to the screen in the documentary feature Almost There – an odyssey that came with unexpected twists and turns, and a revelation that nearly threw the entire project into disarray.

Almost There (see review, Page 28) will be screened Tuesday, Feb. 16 at the Carolina Theatre as part of the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers Tour, with filmmakers Rybicky and Wickenden scheduled to attend the screening and participate in a question-and-answer session afterward.

It was by sheer chance (or fate, perhaps?) that Rybicky and Wickenden encountered Anton at a street festival near his home in East Chicago, Ind., where he was drawing portraits and selling his artwork. Intrigued not only by his impressive talents but also his crusty eccentricity, the filmmakers were determined to capture this unusual talent on screen, to capture the bizarre atmosphere in which he plied his trade – within the crumbling, mouldering walls of his childhood home – and to work toward arranging the first gallery exhibition of his work.

“This is our first feature-length film as directors, as we learned so much over the eight years it took to make it – not just about directing and producing, but also about storytelling and, even more, about perseverance,” say Rybicky and Wickenden. (This was an e-mail interview; Rybicky wrote the initial responses, which Wickenden then edited – so in essence it’s both their voices.)

“In fact, the perseverance it took to finish our film was in many ways inspired by – and mirrored – the perseverance we saw in our film’s subject who, no matter how difficult his struggle was, showed us time and again how crucial it is in life – and in filmmaking – to remain passionate and purposeful and never give up,” they say.

(It should be noted that the Peter Anton of Almost There is not the same Peter Anton who specializes in creating artwork out of chocolate and candy, earning him the nickname “Candy Warhol.”) Among the film’s many honors are a Special Jury Prize from both the Indie Memphis Film Festival and the Sarasota Film Festival, the Audience Award from the EBS Documentary Festival (EIDF) in South Korea, “Best of the Fest” at the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival, and the Emerging Filmmaker Award at the Geneva Film Festival.

“We’re blown away by how many people have embraced our film all over the world – including in South Korea, where we were invited to screen our film last summer where it went on to win the Audience Award throughout the entire country,” say Rybicky and Wickenden. “Although our story is intense and sometimes sad and difficult to watch, it’s also really funny and we love hearing audiences laugh as much as they do. Although our subject’s story might be extreme, people relate to it and we could not be more grateful.”

The “extreme” aspect they speak of is a revelation from Anton’s past that comes to light late in the game, literally as the finishing touches are being put on his exhibition – one far more disturbing than the toxic, garbagestrewn enclave he calls home.

“As you can see in the film, there was a time when we needed to pull back from Peter and not try to involve ourselves in his well-being,” say Rybicky and Wickenden. But, “as far as we backed off, we found it hard to stop filming altogether until we knew where Peter’s story would end. Also, after working with Peter and documenting his life and story for so many years, I think we became more clear on what scenes and interviews we needed to shoot as we got closer to the end of the process. But even then, it’s hard to know where to end a story when that story just keeps going on in real life.

“After the revelations from Peter’s past were discovered and the exhibit almost got shut down, we were definitely ready to give up on Peter and the project. But, very much like the audiences that watch our film, we knew we were in the middle of a story we just had to see through.”

As a result, the filmmakers became a much more integral part of the film than they originally anticipated.

“Being a part of the story was something we didn’t plan on whatsoever, and as we show throughout the film, getting so close to Peter both gave us pause and spurred us on,” they say. “Like many documentary filmmakers, our relationship with our subject was complicated. Our role was constantly shifting, as were our emotions about Peter and the situation he was in. Unlike many documentary filmmakers, and for better and/or worse, we kept some of those complex negotiations in the story instead of cutting them out.”

The Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers’ 2016 schedule will continue with screenings at the Carolina Theatre of Bill Siegel’s documentary The Trials of Muhammad Ali (March 15) and Eugene Corr’s documentary Ghost Town in Havana (April 12), with the filmmakers likewise scheduled to attend. !

WANNA go?

Almost There will be screened 7 pm Tuesday, Feb. 16 in The Crown at the Carolina Theatre (310 S. Greene St., Greensboro). Tickets are $7 (general admission) or $6 (students, senior citizens, military). For advance tickets or more information, call 336.333.2605 or visit the official Carolina Theatre website: http://www.carolinatheatre. com/. The official website for Almost There is http://www.almostthereproject.com/.

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