Join Heartland Film for a screening of 2015 Heartland Film Festival Official Selection, Narrative Feature Superior at JCC Indianapolis on Tuesday, May 3 at 7 p.m.
In the summer of 1969, Derek Suntila is weeks away from the Vietnam War and Charlie Eskola is weeks away from his first days at Michigan Tech University. Before the two best friends go their separate ways, they leave their small hometown in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on one final adventure: a two-week 1,300 mile bike ride around the massive and unforgiving Lake Superior.
$10 online / box office
Filmmaker Spotlight: Edd Benda
HF: What is your film about, and how did the project come to be?
EB: During the height of the Vietnam War 1969, two young friends are at a crossroads. Charlie is on his way to Michigan Tech University, and Derek is counting the days to his inevitable military draft eligibility. Before their futures take hold, the lifelong best friends embark on one final adventure: a 1,300-mile bike ride along the shores of the gargantuan Lake Superior. With only twospeed Schwinn bicycles and limited preparation, Charlie and Derek pedal through the massive northern backwoods of Michigan, Minnesota, and Canada. Along the way they face hunger, exhaustion, and the kind of people in the world who never wanted to be found.
I was first inspired to make Superior when my Uncle Karl told me the story about when he went on this epic 10-day bike ride around Lake Superior with is cousin Dudza in 1971. I was so enamored with the time and place where young men went on these kind of adventures, that I had to go out and experience this world myself. Knowing what resources were available to me in the gorgeous Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I spent summers as a kid, Superior grew into a beautiful patchwork quilt of tales that I heard from my Dad and his eight siblings growing up. So much so, that even the bikes you see in the movie are the actual bikes that Karl and Dudza rode more than 40 years ago.
With a great deal of love, support, and good luck, eleven of us set out from Los Angeles in a four car caravan to film in the remote wilderness 3,600 miles away, living in a tiny cabin for an entire month. The fact that I still work with that entire team of people more than a year later is a testament to how truly special the experience of making Superior really was.
HF: What was your role in the production?
EB: I am the writer, director, and one of three producers of Superior.
HF: Why did you submit to the Heartland Film Festival? Have you been to the Festival before?
EB: I submitted to Heartland for a combination of reasons. I first learned about Heartland in Chris Gore’s Ultimate Guide Film Festival Survival Guide, and while researching the festival further I was elated to learn that it was one of the marquis film festivals in the Midwest. As a Midwest kid, I knew we had to bring Superior to the place where people would identify best with the sensibility and heart of the film (no pun intended). I have never been to the festival before, and I have only stayed briefly in Indy before. I cannot wait to experience the entire festival over 10 days!
HF: This year’s tagline is “Movies That Stay with You” — what lasting effect will your film have on moviegoers?
EB: When we look back on our younger selves, it’s incredible to imagine how young and sometimes stupid we were when we were making choices that impacted the rest of our lives. Even more so, we think back to the friends we had when we were kids, and how we maybe lost touch or went our separate ways at some point, yet how important those people were in shaping who we are. Superior lingers with audiences because it puts that crucial junction in life at the forefront. Set amidst the stunning vistas of Michigan, it leaves our audience wrestling with those choices we made as kids. While our characters are living at a time where an uncertain war hung over our nation’s young men like a black cloud, even today we still live and cope with the rewards and consequences of our decisions. Superior inspires its audience to go on an adventure and cherish the time you have with the people you love.
HF: What has inspired you to become a filmmaker?
EB: I grew up in a big and charismatic family where the dinner table every night was a theater of storytelling and one-upsmanship. It is with my family’s storytelling spirit that I wanted to go out and tell stories to the world. Being a filmmaker always seemed like the most wonderful way to do that.
HF: What is something that you know about filmmaking now, but you weren’t told when you started your career?
EB: I suppose this will hinge largely on where I choose to define the start of my career. I am very fortunate to be an alumnus of the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. Before I walked through those doors, I had no idea just how complicated making a movie is. After graduating from USC, I am still learning the lesson of just how complicated distributing your movie really is. It is never fun when your friends and family are asking, “When can we see the movie?” and you have to ambiguously reply, “We’re working on it!”
HF: What are some of your favorite movies? What’s your favorite worst movie (you know it’s bad, but still love it)?
EB: This is always the worst question; there are too many to list! I’m an avid hockey fan and player, and Slap Shot and Goon are two of my all-time favorite movies as a result. I also enjoy the occasional classic like The Shop Around the Corner or Road House (80s is classic, right?) More recently, I loved Tom McCarthy’s Win Win and Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. I have to quit now, or I’ll go on forever!
My favorite worst movie is a great question. I’m very much a part of the cult of The Room, but that is almost too obvious. I’ve lately been on a big Swayze kick, and some of those could be considered pretty bad. Hmm…if I had to narrow it down to that one movie that I feel like I have to justify to my friends whenever we’re watching it, it would have to be one of those movies that shows up on TV, and you say “Welp, looks like this is what we’re doing for the next couple hours.” I’m looking at you Volcano, Armageddon, and Con Air.
HF: How many film festivals has your film been a part of? What do you like most about the festival experience?
EB: The Heartland Film Festival will be the third film festival for Superior. My favorite thing about festivals is that there is a certain energy and excitement about independent film. Everyone around you is in a similar boat of, “We don’t really know what we’re doing, but we’re here, and that’s awesome!” And you know what? It is awesome! I love hearing the good luck and horror stories from other filmmakers. Above all else, however, my favorite thing about film festivals is that we actually get to show our film! That’s the point, isn’t it?
HF: Heartland Film Festival moviegoers love filmmaker Q&As. Let’s say a Festival attendee wants to earn some brownie points—what is a question that you’d love to answer, but haven’t yet been asked?
EB: Ooooh, that’s a tough one. We have so many stories from when we were making the film, that I know we haven’t had the chance to share them all, and there are some doozies. Anything related to the living conditions we had while filming are always fun. That said, short of a boisterous distribution offer or a spontaneous marriage proposal from a wealthy heiress, the question that would really make me smile is, “What was it like introducing your cast and crew to U.P. and Finnish culture for the first time?” I have a really fun story for that one.
See photos from 2015 Heartland Film Festival with the Superior filmmakers below: