Reno, recently at least, is showing signs of being attractive to independent filmmakers. These movies may not be as satisfying to local tourism promoters as, say, Sister Act when it comes to showcasing the city, but if your concerns are a little less callow than that, here are some films that touch on Reno as both place and idea. They're also a tribute to the ordeal of those who love to make movies and operate outside the major studios.
There is a considerable dramatic history to portraying people sitting around a bar talking. There is William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life, filmed with William Bendix in 1948 and performed live on television with Jackie Gleason in 1958. There have been several lesser known movies, like Trees Lounge (1996) with Chloë Sevigny and the comedy television series Cheers.
The Waterhole shows several friends who hang out at a place called Murphy’s as one of them unwillingly prepares to leave the womb of college for the real world. The bar was played by Corrigan’s on Wells Avenue. The film was written and produced by Nathan Cole and directed by Ely Mennin, with a group of mostly little-known television actors (Jade Carter, Patrick J. Adams, Jessica Barth). Available on DVD.
This Is Martin Bonner
With an audience award from Sundance, this film taps into the notion that the West is a place to get lost or reinvent oneself. After leaving the East and declaring bankruptcy, Martin Bonner becomes a volunteer exec at a charitable group. Bonner forms a friendship with someone moving in the other direction, a prisoner named Travis trying to get back into society.
Variety: “Martin possesses an attractive sense of confidence and contentment, despite his troubles, which are underscored by the physical disorder of Nevada, the aesthetic nightmare of Reno and the movements of Sean McElwee’s camera. Furthermore, there’s a clear contrast between Martin and Travis, the older man gifted with a graceful bearing, the other a kind of Eeyore carrying his sins on his back.”
Written and directed by Chad Hartigan (Luke and Brie Are on a First Date), stars Paul Eenhoorn, Richmond Arquette, Robert Longstreet.
In the early days of moviemaking when new product was rare, some Reno locals started shooting their own movies to supply local theatres. This title is reminiscent of those days. Money was raised by local musicians, a local casting firm (its owner Juli Green co-produced) cast some of the best known local talent—Mary Bennett, Max Volume, Tom Gordon.
“There’s not one person in any other city or state has anything to do with this picture,” said executive producer Brian Sutherland.
The movie tells the story of a “street hustling, drug dealing, ding dong guy” (Sutherland’s description) who hooks up with a stripper. They leave their Reno scene and go on the road where they “run into a bunch of strange and wonderful characters. He’s being led astray by her and she has her reasons for wanting to get with him.”
A road picture, a character study, and a coming-of-age story are all rolled into one. The underground drug and music scene in Reno is explored and Middlegate, a desolate wide spot in the road in Churchill County serves as the place where the story plays out.
Man from Reno
Filmed in San Francisco and finished with $50,000-plus raised online, this title is a thriller built around a sheriff who accidentally hits a Japanese man (several cast members are of Japanese descent) while driving in the fog one evening—the victim disappears from his hospital room—and a mystery writer who has an affair with a man from Reno.
Directed by Dave Boyle (White on Rice), the soundtrack was composed by Reno native Micah Dahl Anderson. It’s in post-production and no release date has yet been set. Boyle said, “We’re anticipating a wide release in Japan and a smaller art house release stateside. Hopefully, Reno will be in the cards.”
Stars Pepe Serna, Yuki Matsuzaki and Derrick O’Connor. Serna was important in the casting, Boyle told a film website: “Pepe is a longtime friend and collaborator, and cameoed in my first two movies when I was just getting my start. … Once the opportunity for Man from Reno came my way, I decided to tailor it for Pepe and luckily it worked out.”