The first feature filmThe haunting on the riverfilmed entirely in the town of Clinton will debut in August at the historic Red Mill Museum Village.
For resident Mark Zhutianli, owner of Citispot Tea & Coffee, “The Haunting on the River” is the first feature film he has written and directed. The film, which was shot at various locations in Clinton, centers on the friendship of three teenagers and their efforts to take down a ghost that haunts the Red Mill and threatens the safety of the town.
“I hope at least this film can play a role in further enriching our culture for our small town of Clinton,” Zhutianli said. “In this digital age, although we can go anywhere to seek information, I believe that having something of your own has special value. I hope this film has an effect to inspire others locally.
Bethlehem Township producer Christine Groth said she was looking for sponsors for the film’s premiere weekend. All proceeds from the screenings will go to The Village Moulin Rouge Museum.
“This is about supporting the arts, all sponsorships will keep the movies going,” Clinton Mayor Janice Kovach said. “For (Zhutianli), it’s a passion project. He doesn’t have to, but he loves Clinton and the movies, so he dedicated time to this project.
The film will debut Thursday, August 25, followed by a special family screening on Friday, August 26. There will be an additional screening on Saturday August 27. Tickets for the premiere and screenings will go on sale starting in May.
Another special screening will also take place at Hunts Mill Park in September. All proceeds from this screening will go to the Clinton Fire Department and tickets will go on sale this summer.
“The city normally charges a fee for any kind of film production, and the city has waived all fees,” Zhutianli said. “What an enthusiasm that all of our local government, government office, fire department, emergency services management to police department, participated.
“They physically participated with their uniforms, their trucks and even became actors. I think in this moment I have not seen another city with our enthusiasm.
Inspired by Clinton’s 150-year history and passionate about his community, Zhutianli wrote the script for the film in 2019. He previously directed several documentaries about the city, including “Living in Clinton”, “The Great Fire of Clinton” and “The History of Clinton Music Hall.
Groth has been friends with Zhutianli for over 20 years and first learned about the project when Zhutianli asked him to edit his script. At the time, Groth said she was writing her own novel and often went to Zhutianli’s cafe to work on her book.
“I was happy to change the script when he asked me, but when he asked me to do more at the beginning, I said no because I knew it would take a lot of my time,” said said Groth. “So we found a few people to help him, but their schedules didn’t allow for everything he needed, and I fell into it and carried on.”
Co-directing a cast and crew of 300 volunteers, Groth said everyone working on this film was from residents or surrounding towns.
“Everyone except for people like me who are retired, had full-time jobs and are volunteers,” Groth said. “So they were crew at night, they acted at night, so everyone was volunteers without any pay. It was a community effort and a labor of love.
But making this standalone film was no small feat, Groth said, as filming delays occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Growth said filming was canceled and five of their eight lead actors quit.
“The movie hadn’t even started yet, and people were giving up for different reasons,” Zhutianli said. “I watched our organization begin to crumble, until Groth came along and maintained a firm grip that helped bring the organization together.”
They recast their five lead roles and began filming in September 2021.
“I’m glad I had a plan B because I think it actually went better with the people we had because they’re locals and they’re all committed,” Groth said. “It’s their town, everyone goes to see them, they know a lot of people, their friends go to see them. I think they put more into it than people who came from outside the region.
Then filming was again delayed as Hurricane Ida caused flooding throughout the city. Despite this further setback, Groth said they returned a week later and shot their final scene in early November last year.
From the start of the film, Zhutianli said Kovach was one of the project’s biggest supporters. Kovach even plays a zombie in the film.
“As mayor, I was beyond thrilled that (Zhutianli) chose Clinton as his home and chose Clinton as the location for everything he does in film,” Kovach said. “Not just this movie, but the documentaries he’s done all have a Clinton focus.”
A movie buff herself, Kovach helped create the Clinton Film Commission and that of the city River Town Film Festival in 2017. They were unable to host the festival in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
“There’s quite a bit of work that goes into it — and it’s run entirely by volunteers with sponsor money,” Kovach said.
Groth said the film brought together so many people, who wouldn’t normally interact with each other, saying of the premiere, “I want to see everyone’s reaction because they don’t know the whole story. “
First assistant director Mark La Rue, who lives in Clinton Township, said he was thrilled to hear the cast and crew’s feedback at the premiere. “I hope they see what I saw when I read the script in 2019, and what happened to all that hard work,” La Rue said. “I want to sit down and see it on all their faces.”
For more information on “The Haunting on the River”, visit his Facebook page.
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Vashti Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.