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Filmmaker Campaigns to Get Wayland-Shot Film in Theaters

"Girlfriend," directed by Wayland High School graduate Justin Lerner, is making a push for wide distribution.

Justin Lerner may live on the other side of the country, but that doesn’t mean Wayland isn’t close to his heart.

So close, in fact, that the graduate has brought a sliver of Hollywood to Wayland by filming two of his movies in the businesses, fields, woods and spaces that make Wayland a unique movie set.

“The subject matter of my stories recently is more suited to pastoral settings,” Lerner said via phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. “And if you’re looking to do an indie feature, you get more support from a small town where people want to have you. It’s just very rare to have a small town serve almost as a back lot for your feature, and when you don’t have a lot of money, the flexibility is nice.”

Lerner’s recent picture, “Girlfriend,” was filmed entirely in Wayland and, in some sense, it is a story about Wayland in that it features some of Wayland’s own as well as Lerner’s high school classmate and friend Evan Sneider in his first starring role.

According to the synopsis on the film’s website, “Girlfriend” is about Evan, a young man with Down syndrome who romantically pursues a down-on-her-luck single mother, Candy, played by Shannon Woodward of TV’s “Raising Hope.”

“Despite his many hardships and the seeming impossibility of Candy being able to return his love, Evan struggles to remain a resilient, pure embodiment of human compassion,” the synopsis reads.

“I’ve always wanted to make a film about [Evan],” said Lerner, who wrote and directed “Girlfriend.” “I really have a goal of telling unconventional love stories and stories that are morally perplexing. I like pushing the envelope on taboos a little bit. And I also thought I could make a film like ‘Girlfriend’ in Wayland. So I wrote a film that could be filmed with specific locations in mind.”

The film was well received at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2010, and, in fact, sold out all three of its public screenings. But now, in order for the film to reach an even wider audience – like the ones that fill movie theaters in Boston, New York and Los Angeles – Lerner and the film’s producers need to raise about $110,000.

“As an independent filmmaker, the biggest goal is to get a film out to as many people as possible,” Lerner said, “not only for my career, but because you worked so hard on this project.

“Evan Sneider is a true discovery,” Lerner added. “And I really want the world to see Shannon Woodward’s performance. She is a rising star. Everyone really involved … I would like the world to see it.”

Lerner said that independent films often cost more to distribute than they do to create. Most of the costs are marketing-related, he said, adding that if producers go to the trouble to get films in major theaters, it’s important that audiences know the film is there.

And then there’s the cost of creating copies of the film, shipping it throughout the country, hiring a publicist and more.

So the producers of “Girlfriend” got creative, Lerner said, and posted a donation site at indiegogo.com, a website platform where individuals can raise funds for a variety of projects. As of Friday morning, nearly $29,000 had been given toward the $110,000 goal with 42 days remaining in this initial fundraising campaign period.

“We’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of support from all over the world,” Lerner said. The film has received donations from individuals in Brazil, Germany, Portugal and other countries, he added. “A lot of the people that are donating saw the film in Toronto and want it to get a wide release.”

Even if the $110,000 goal isn’t achieved by the deadline, Lerner said they won’t give up in their efforts to bring “Girlfriend” to theater audiences where, Lerner said, it was really designed to be viewed.

“I’m a filmmaker that still makes films that are meant to be seen on the big screen,” Lerner said. “They are sound heavy … they suck you in. For me, the visceral experience of seeing and hearing [‘Girlfriend’]is best suited to a big audience in a dark theater.”

It is in those sound-system equipped, dark theaters, Lerner said, that the Town of Wayland truly emerges as a character in and of itself.

“The sounds in the woods, the views of the train tracks … the town is a character in the movie,” Lerner said.

With a little luck and continued generosity, Wayland, along with Sneider, a few Wayland police officers and the other stars of “Girlfriend,” will have their chances to shine in front of theater crowds throughout the U.S.

And, if “Girlfriend” meets the goal and receives wide distribution, Lerner said it will also be one of the first independent films to successfully use a crowd-sourcing website to achieve that goal.

“Good quality art, people will pay for it,” Lerner said.

To donate to the efforts to release “Girlfriend” in theaters, visit indiegogo.com/girlfriend-2.

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