It’s never been easy to sell Door County in winter, but if the beaming faces and air of pride that washed out of the Door Community Auditorium Saturday night are any indication, there are about 1,500 people with a new round of ammunition.
The first two screenings of the independent film Feed the Fish packed the 750-seat auditorium with residents eager for their first look at the peninsula on the big screen. Tickets were made available for free by the auditorium, whose staff and board scrambled to bring the movie’s first showing to Fish Creek.
The film is the brainchild of writer and director Michael Matzdorff, who has strong ties to the county and committed to filming in the dead of the Wisconsin winter. His uncle, the Emmy-winning actor Tony Shalhoub, jumped on board and brought the project early legitimacy. Last January and February they filmed primarily in Northern Door and brought a winter buzz rarely felt on the peninsula.
Hundreds of residents contributed to the film either on screen or behind the scenes, and all nervously awaited a first look at how the community would be depicted.
Matzdorff did not try to hide or gloss over the desolation and chill of the Northern Door winter. Instead, the film reveled in it, and was all the better for it. Empty roads and icy waters set the scene. Genuine characters brought Matzdorff’s script to life in funny, endearing style.
The crowd was ready to cheer upon arrival, and when the text “Sturgeon Bay, WI” appeared on screen early in the film the crowd let loose. It happened again each time a local landmark appeared. The Michigan Street Bridge, the Ephraim shoreline, Mink River Basin, Viking Grill, and Sister Bay Village Hall among them.
And they roared when Shalhoub, who owns property in Northern Door, made his first appearance as the local Sheriff in a portrayal some likened to peninsula legend and longtime sheriff Hollis “Baldy” Bridenhagen.
For those who call the area home, the film portrayed the community with unexpected authenticity.
“I felt you really captured life in Door Co…You really captured Northern Door and us locals,” wrote one audience member on the movie’s Web site, http://www.feedthefishmovie.com. Another wrote, “I see why I love living here.”
As the credits rolled, people could be heard pointing out the names of friends and family, excited to see even the smallest contributions acknowledged on screen. It’s difficult to imagine a film that was more of a community effort than this one.
“We could not have done it without the help of all of you,” Matzdorff said from the stage after the first showing. “We got a ridiculous amount of stuff for free.”
The movie received a standing ovation, and Shalhoub and Matzdorff were washed in a round of heartfelt, appreciative applause.
The film will be submitted to Sundance and other film festivals in hopes of selling it for wide distribution, Matzdorff said. There are several hurdles to clear before he knows what kind of release it will receive.
But it was certainly received well in Fish Creek by a community that made it clear that it has adopted Matzdorff and Shalhoub as two of their own.