Move over, movie theater chains. While several films open in theaters this weekend, there’s one you won’t find at AMC or other traditional movie joints. Reaching a following across the globe, the locally made independent feature film Ctrl+Alt+Dance will have its world premiere this weekend at Memorial Hall.
When an unemployed security software specialist takes an adventure with dance, the definition of courage is surely illustrated — and that’s what audiences can expect to explore. Inspired by the Lindy Hop Movement, producer Brian Crone and producer/director Gex Williams have worked side by side on this low budget independent film that has flourished and received widespread recognition in the dance community. Filled with swing dancing, passion and an unfolding romance, it’s the perfect flick for Valentine’s Day.
Gex Williams has worked on multiple professional film projects and served as the producer and Artistic director of SAC Family Theater in Lexington, Ky. CityBeat caught up with Williams and discussed the inspiration behind the film and the experience of starting out as a small independent project.
CityBeat: Are you and Brian Crone both originally from the Cincinnati area?
Gex Williams: Yes, we both grew up in the Northern Kentucky area but we knew each other growing up. We went to high school together and made some feature films.
CB: How did your film Ctrl+Alt+Dance come about?
GW: I became an avid swing dancer in high school through college. I was aware of this film community throughout the world and no other movies catered to this kind of dance, so I was like, “Hey, I want to make a movie.” I actually wrote the initial script in 2011 but wanted to sit on it to get other projects under by belt.
CB: What was your initial inspiration for the film?
GW: In 2011 I wrote the script, sat on it, and decided to move forward with it. It has a phenomenal story and [Brian and I] reworked a ton of it in early 2013 as we wrote a fresh script together on this draft. The film had dancing, but we needed a story to carry it along. We knew we didn’t have the budget to hire a huge actor and to be solid in the entertaining experience for the audience members. And then we ended the film in summer in 2013 two years from the initial start of pre-production. It went full force in the beginning of 2014 and we’ve been cranking on it ever since. We’re really happy. With an independent film it’s very hard on a low budget and we had phenomenal team members and people.
CB: After a few offers to shoot the film across the country, why was it important for you to film it here in Cincinnati?
GW: There were a few producers who were interested in shooting it out there, but it was really important for us to shoot it in Cincinnati because we love it so much and we’ve traveled some for business and we loved going back to Cincinnati. It’s a great place to come home to and what it offers. The city holds phenomenal landmarks and has a variety of locations.
CB: What were some of your favorite spots to film?
GW: One of my favorite shots of the film was a beautiful shot at Roebling Bridge set up on the Kentucky side, and you see this beautiful river flowing underneath the city and is lit up. And we had other phenomenal locations like Memorial Hall, which is gorgeous on the inside.
CB: What are some prominent themes in Ctrl+Alt+Dance?
GW: Action overcoming fear. We really wanted to communicate that. We [Brian and I] started our own business after college, a full-time gig and there was fear in our own selves and others. We wanted to tell a story about this and the dance was a catalyst to show how that takes place in the film. It’s a great story and a really cute romance. The dancing is amazing and we encourage people to feel good about it and hopefully inspire them to take risks in doing that.
CB: I see that you had difficulty getting into large chain theaters. Tell me about your experience with that in regard to the film.
GW: I can’t fault them because it is different for an independent film to get the mass distribution that an A-list film would get because they don’t have the budget to hire famous actors like Morgan Freeman. For large theaters, it’s a risk to put their movie in there that they won’t have people to support it. It’s so cool that that we have it in countries like Russia and China and were blessed that it was quite strong. We aced that challenge and we knew we had a strong following so we wanted people to see it. So we ended up contacting theaters ourselves and said we’d like to run a campaign in your city so people buy tickets for a one-night premiere showing. A lot of theaters responded.
CB: With a following in more than 80 different countries, how did word of the film spread so quickly all before the world premiere next weekend?
GW: It’s never been showed, but Cincinnati will be the world premiere. Because the Lindy Hop Swing Movement is huge around the world in countries like Spain and London and it’s really quite astounding that a lot of them they really tuned in. Our main actors, their acting is amazing, they’re international dance champions. People were aware of them and interest grew. We worked hard and wanted this film to benefit the community all over the world and we contacted local groups and wanted the proceeds to go back to local communities. We felt so blessed by the support we received and reached a considerable percentage to help others.
CB: What were your initial expectations for the film? Did you expect it to reach the magnitude it did?
GW: We’re blessed in something that is not at all normal for a normal independent project. A lot of projects start out with a grandiose idea and get small and less feasible and it’s a reality check. It’s difficult. And we’ve been so blessed with the talented people and how it blossomed from day one. We said we’re going to do this no matter what. We had talent and it’s grown and we hope it will continue to grow.
CB: Once it started gaining success, did you get any opportunities later on from corporate theaters?
GW: We are just at the beginning of our public awareness. We’ve had interest from larger producers and we’re definitely exploring our options to get a wider distribution of it.
CB: What are your hopes for the film after the big world premiere at Memorial Hall?
GW: We’ve been working hard to deliver the film in a way for people to access. We wanted to work hard to continue to pave a way and find a way to show this film to anyone who wants to see it. We’ll be talking to distribution companies for a possibility of larger scale so we have the resources to get it out there.
Ctrl+Alt+Dance premieres Feb. 13 and 14 at Memorial Hall. More info here.
I hope my Curtain Call column (found here) in a recent issue moves you to head to UC's College Conservatory of Music for Richard Hess's staging of Wendy Wasserstein's Pulitzer Prize winner, The Heidi Chronicles, onstage through . If you remember the 1970s and ’80s, this production will transport you back in time as you watch young feminist Heidi Holland grow up, grow weary and grow wise. Tickets: 513-556-4183.
Aaron Betsky, who stepped down from his post as Cincinnati Art Museum director last year, has a new job: Dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.
a press release, Maura Grogan, chair of the Frank Lloyd Wright School's
Board of Governors, said, "We sought a Director who, like Wright,
relishes invention, challenge, and discovery; someone who is excited to
chart architecture's next frontier; a person who in a time of conformity
understands the beauty of idiosyncrasy; a leader who is ready to speak
enthusiastically and persuasively to a profession in need of direction.
It is clear to us that Aaron is that person."
Betsky will lead a fundraising campaign to help the school become an autonomous independent subsidiary of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, as required by the Higher Learning Commission for it to continue its accreditation.
is getting more national praise — this time from Conde Nast Traveler, which on
its website in December named OTR one of the 10 best architectural sites in the
In “Seeking Frank Lloyd Wright: Best Architecture in the Midwest,” Ashley Petry writes:
Not too long ago, Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood was one of the roughest parts of town. Now it serves as a case study in successful urban renewal, thanks in part to its notable architecture. The district is home to a large concentration of 19th-century Italianate architecture, and those ornate brick buildings now house trendy restaurants and swanky boutiques. While you’re in town, swing by the University of Cincinnati, whose new building complex was designed by architecture firm Morphosis.
What is remarkable about this is the company OTR's 19th Century Italianate architecture keeps on this select list — except for the Victorian "painted ladies" of St. Louis' Lafayette Square, the others are all Modernist or Contemporary masterpieces, many by the world's great architects.
These include Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park as well as his contribution to Toledo Art Museum's complex; the bedroom at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin in Spring Green, Wis., as well as his contributions to Racine's SC Johnson company's headquarters (and home of one of its presidents), Eero Saarinen's Mid-Century Modernist Miller House in Columbus, Ind. (owned by Indianapolis Art Museum), Santiago Calatrava's breathtaking 2001 addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum and Jean Nouvel's 2006 Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
Just a random thought here, but if Cincinnati's past architecture is worthy of such lofty company, should we be putting more thought into getting architects worthy of those mentioned above for our future projects? Calatrava has done some amazing bridges and the Cincinnati Art Museum in the past has had ambitious (but now-stalled) plans for a landmark Contemporary addition.
Read the full Conde Nast Traveler feature here.