by Gina Myers

During its opening night screening at Hell's Half Mile Film and Music Festival, feature-length narrative Cherry had the audience's full attention, demonstrated through the outbreaks of uproarious laughter throughout the film and the dead silence during the movie's more intense moments.

The protagonist of Cherry is Aaron (played by Kyle Gallner), a seventeen-year-old freshman at an ivy league school, who is attempting to break away from his sheltered life that has been dictated to him by his controlling mother. And though she has signed him up for engineering courses (and is even in regular contact with his teachers, FERPA laws be damned), Aaron chases dreams of being an artist and even attends art courses he isn't enrolled in, partly due to his attraction to Linda (Laura Allen), an older classmate who is "presumed ed," which she jokes, "sounds like presumed dead."

Linda encourages Aaron's artistic side and tries to get him to be more direct. She also offers a place for him to sleep since his roommate, "Wild Bill" (DC Pierson), is always busy entertaining ladies in their dorm room. Aaron enters an awkward situation as he is placed between Linda, whom he thinks he loves, and her daughter Beth (Britt Robertson), a fourteen-year-old who thinks she loves him. Throw in family dysfunction, alcoholism, drug use, and violence, and Aaron gets much more of an education than he was likely looking for. Even with these heavy themes, the film is able to maintain levity and work in some classic college movie humor, including Aaron's ultimate triumph over his demanding professor.

The story is somewhat based on writer/director Jeffrey Fine's life. His brother, producer Matthew Fine, who was in attendance along with actress Laura Allen (currently starring in the new FX series Terriers), admits he's never been willing to ask how much of the story is true, though he has met the real-life Linda and Beth. Even though the story is set on an ivy league campus, the movie was filmed in Kalamazoo on both Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College campuses. His wife's family lives on the west side of the state, and he suggested filming here to his brother. Further, he credits the Michigan Film Incentive for making the movie possible. "The film cost one million dollars that we spent here in the state, and that doesn't count what we spent from day-to-day at local businesses." He adds, "We brought in a crew from L.A., but we also hired a lot of local workers, and gave people in Michigan jobs in the industry at a higher level than they have had before."

"People in Michigan are the nicest people in the world. I mean, we would be completely ruining their lives, flipping their lives upside down, and they would bring us cookies." Sometimes the hustle and bustle of Hollywood can rush production schedules, but Fine thinks they were able to work outside of that here. "We were able to take the time to really craft the film. So it wasn't just about saving a little money by filming here; it was the whole experience." He was also able to talk one of the colleges into putting up the cast and crew in one of the empty dormitories, which helped them save some more money. "You really want to put every dollar spent on the screen, not on travel and hotel rooms."

Cherry was an official selection at South By Southwest, Traverse City Film Festival, and a number of other festivals. In addition to screening at Hell's Half Mile this weekend, it is also playing at the Woodstock Film Festival. During the month of October, Cherry will be opening in a number of places throughout Michigan as a test. Based on audience response, there's no telling what could happen for the movie. Locally, you can catch a second showing of Cherry at Hell's Half Mile today at 3:30 pm at the Delta College Planetarium. The movie opens in Kalamazoo and Portage on October 8th and in Lansing and Grand Rapids on October 15th. For more information, visit Cherry's Facebook page or the official website at

© Gina Myers, 2010