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Published: Tuesday, 9/20/2005

Film's real stars shine at premiere

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
After the film, patrons gather in the Northtowne Mall to discuss, to celebrate, and to reminisce about a friend and their city.
After the film, patrons gather in the Northtowne Mall to discuss, to celebrate, and to reminisce about a friend and their city.
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DEFIANCE Cindy Mack could not sit still. She stood last night through the entire Defiance premiere of The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.

The new director of the Greater Defiance Area Tourism and Visitor Bureau, she stood and paced at the back of a crowded theater in the Regal Cinema at Northtowne Mall, occasionally watching her small town pop. 16,500 immortalized in a medium-sized DreamWorks production, albeit one starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson.

Nervous? Exhausted.

Ms. Mack started in May. By June she knew the film was approaching. She called DreamWorks and asked for a premiere, with search lights and red carpets and movie stars. DreamWorks said no.

Ms. Mack wrote to Oprah, hoping to drum up some publicity. Oprah never got back to her. She begged the studio for a premiere screening. In early August, at last, she got an e-mail: You got it, the e-mail said, now please stop emailing.

It would have been nice to have movie stars here, she said, standing between an East of Chicago Pizza and the post office s customer service center, no red carpet on the cold mall floor.

But I m amazed this was filmed to begin with. It s the appreciation for that I m focusing on, minus what we didn t get.

The film, which opens for regular showings in Defiance on Sept. 30 (and Toledo sometime in October), is adapted from the memoir by Terry Ryan that tells the story of her mother, Evelyn Ryan, played by Moore, who raised 10 children on a quiet Defiance street in a rather odd way: She entered contests, won refrigerators, trips, clothing, or a few dollars every now and then in The Blade s now defunct poetry contests. Harrelson plays Kelly Ryan, the abusive father.

All 228 tickets for the screening were either won through local contests or bought as sponsorships, with the money used to establish an Evelyn Ryan scholarship at Defiance College. Floyd Culver, a very round happy man and the president of the local chamber of commerce, stops checking off ticket holders at a card table and gets dead serious.

This is very important. Very important. As I watch I will be looking for, what I call, local identity.

Mayor Bob Armstrong, topped by a shock of white hair, looks even jollier. He smiles and says, It will mean a lot. Not least of which, it will mean when people drive the new U.S. 24 between Toledo and Fort Wayne, they will drive by and see the sign for the town and think, oh, yeah, Defiance.

There were stars out, more or less. Dortha Schafer, now 84, an old friend of Evelyn s, arrived in a fetching blue dress; she s played in the film by Laura Dern. And Dave Ryan, the youngest Ryan child, now 51, arrived with his children and granddaughters. Any nervousness I had is completely gone, he said. But the kids, they re shaking.

At 7:30 p.m., the film started, the audience grew unnaturally quiet for a movie crowd. Through the thin walls of adjoining theaters, you could hear blasts from louder movies intruding on the quiet Defiance melodrama.

At 9:10, the lights came up.

Grown men batted at tears with rolled-up napkins. A few women left the screen with mascara-running raccoon eyes. Children asked their parents which character was grandma, which was uncle.

I loved it, said Jan Craig, a Defiance resident. I was just thinking that this, like in all my favorite movies, made me never want to leave.

It has strong emotions, said Lisa McKeen, another resident. When you know the people involved, they re that much stronger.

Dave Ryan, his eyes red, emerged and was immediately besieged.

Dave, how d it go down?

Dave, you were awful cute.

Dave, what happened? You were cute.

They did a good job, he said, now I just have to see it four or five more times.

Outside the box office, Dan Memmer, 21, and Jennifer Lindinger, 19, bought tickets for The 40-Year Old Virgin. He wore a Vote for Pedro T-shirt; she wore a plaid skirt. Asked to fill in the blank: This is the biggest thing to hit Defiance since __ Mr. Memmer thought long and hard and finally said, Feel free to chip in any time, dude.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at cborrelli@theblade.com or 419-724-6117.



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