By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
It isn’t likely that any local residents will be in Indiana Saturday for the big premiere of an inspiring film called A Father’s Fight, but a Cobourg-raised woman will be starring in it.
Working on the film is how Sarah Cleveland (Legassic)–graduate of C.R. Gummow Public School and CDCI West – has spent the last two years.
She plays the part of Kacie Lawson, wife of a washed-up boxer who loses his way and has to learn how to fight again – not just for a big victory but to recapture what matters in his life.
Because the movie was made by Corydon, Indiana-based First Capital Films, that will be the scene of Saturday’s premiere.
That’s the official event, Cleveland said, but its true premiere was in a county jail in Indiana.
“Yesterday, today and tomorrow,” she said in a Tuesday interview.
“It was quite an amazing opportunity for us to be able to show this movie to the people it was written for, so we were glad to get the okay.”
The movie was filmed in Kentucky and Indiana, which made it easy since the Cleveland family had lived in Louisville, Kentucky, for 10 years before relocating to London, Ont., within the last few months and introducing their two youngest daughters to snow.
Cleveland’s own story is about focusing on what is important in life, but without letting go of a dream. And that dream was acting.
“Back 20 years ago, there was a casting call for The Music Man in Millbrook, Ont. I did that, and kind of thought I’d go on from there,” she recalled.
Then she met her husband Hugh. He had a daughter and, after they married, two more came along.
“We decided together I was going to be a stay-at-home mom and grow our family instead,” she said.
Then, about three years ago – in Kentucky – she read about a casting call in the newspaper for some background actors. Daughters Kacy, Abbie and Rylie were no longer little ones, so she thought she would give it a whirl.
“That got the bug back into me,” she recalled.
She loved the background work, which led to some speaking roles, some commercials, some print-media work, some feature films and now a lead role.
“I’m very, very grateful. I’ve had a lot of phenomenal opportunities and met some amazing people along the way.”
The work promises to keep coming, she added.
“Since I have been back, I have signed with the best agency in Canada, YCAA (Young Canadian Artists Agency) in Toronto. They’re already booking me like crazy. There’s a lot coming up in the next year, thanks to them.”
That’s for tomorrow – for now, she considers this movie a significant achievement that she describes as a faith-based movie, but not a preachy one. It’s about the universal theme of straightening out your priorities and fighting for what’s important.
“I’m super super pumped about this movie. I really do feel it’s changing lots of people’s lives, and I’m really excited,” she said.
“It premiered in a jail, and we’re seeing that it’s already changing people’s lives.”
Getting the part of a character with the same name as her daughter was a delightful surprise, Cleveland said, sharing the film’s plot.
Bo Lawson (played by Corydon native Travis Hancock) is a promising boxer who seems to be going places. He marries his high-school sweetheart Kacie and they have a couple of kids.
Then he falls into the same kind of addiction lifestyle his father had. Kacie fights for her family, but has to admit at some point that the situation is killing her and killing their family. She is forced to take the children and leave.
Bo’s trainer approaches him with a special opportunity – the chance to fight his old high-school rival (turned pro) in a one-time match for $5,000. As the trainer begins preparing him for the event, however, it is clear he is also training Bo to fight for what matters in his life.
The movie’s press release describes it as “a low-budget feature film that beat the odds not only getting produced, but securing a global distribution rights agreement of this soon-to-be-released movie, using local area talent and scoring a prestigious film-festival invite.”
That would be the honour of being one of only seven films chosen for the Family and Life Chicago Film Festival.
“The movie became a reality during these incredibly challenging times because of the financial sacrifices that the entire staff and team made, along with the support of local businesses and the community,” director Tyler Sansom said.
Cleveland offered some details of the sacrifices and challenges the director had mentioned.
“All of us volunteered for this project. This was all heart and dedication, and it was crowd-funded,” she said.
“We do have a distributor who has picked it up, and that’s why we are going into theatrical release and then major retail vendors and streaming platforms – thanks to our distributor. But we were fully funded ourselves, 58 of us all giving of our time.”
It was not a typical film where you hit the set for 12-to-18-hour days, she said. Everyone had families and other commitments, so they started out with table readings – sort of like a play, she said.
“We were all from different states. We travelled in, spent an evening rehearsing, everyone would disperse and go home, then the next month we did the same thing.”
This prep work went on for a year in advance of their scheduled filming start – last April, a bare month after COVID-19 shut down so much.
“Our assistant director was phenomenal, constantly changing our schedule. We were all making adjustments – thank goodness for all of our families!” Cleveland said.
Like everyone, they had to wear masks and keep certain distances, undergo screening, and report on where they had been and whom they had been around – basically relying on each other’s honesty.
They had some tricks up their sleeves, like camera angles to make actors appear closer than they really were.
A lot of locations they had planned on wouldn’t work in a COVID world, so there was some scrambling. Several restaurants allowed them to film on their premises, but it was tricky because of capacity limits.
“We didn’t want to take away what small business they could have,” she said.
“If we started shooting and a customer came in, we would wait outside.”
They had smoother sailing at restaurants where they were allowed to shoot after-hours, and in the scenes they filmed at each other’s homes.
“We definitely had to be creative,” she said.
“Our final scene is a big fight where, if you look carefully, you can see people are masked in the background. We blurred them out, but…”
Director Sansom said in the press release that Green Apple Entertainment – an industry-leading global distributor of independent film and TV content – got interested because of the production quality of the film’s trailer and the fact that it had more than 250,000 views.
“Once the trailer captured their attention, they saw the story line, the powerful message, the quality of the acting and production, and they then became anxious to be a partner.”
“A Father’s Fight is a quality picture that is entertaining, with a compelling story, which mainstream audiences around the world can enjoy and be encouraged by,” Green Apple Head of Global Acquisition and Sales Joshua K. Carpenter commented.
Following this weekend’s premiere, Cleveland said, it goes into theatrical release. This will be followed by streaming on major platforms and even the opportunity to purchase a physical copy at major retailers.
The final work is truly something to be proud of, she said, and she hopes the people from her home town take the opportunity to see it – if not at the Northumberland Mall cinema she remembers so fondly, perhaps at home.