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Hartford's The 'Rising Star' In Local Filmmaker's Drama

Susan Dunne

February 20, 2011

While attending film school, Newington native Marty Lang had an internship at the Los Angeles production company that made the "American Pie" movies. After graduating in 2004, he was offered a job at the company. But then he heard that another film studio, Utopia, was in talks to build a filmmaking complex in Preston, Conn.

"I left L.A. behind and then came home to Connecticut, thinking that it might happen," Lang says. "It didn't."

That didn't stop Lang from making a career in the film industry. He has worked in independent filmmaking ever since, producing six feature films as well as teaching filmmaking at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, working with the state film industry training program and acting as educational director of the Connecticut Film Festival.

When it came time to write and direct his own movie, Lang, now 33 and living in East Windsor, looked no farther than the closest city, Hartford.

"I think Hartford is a city worthy of being on film," Lang says. "It's a city that has a number of different personalities to it. It has a beautiful downtown and other neighborhoods that are struggling socioeconomically. That dichotomy is something worth looking at. … That's what the city is. There is no one view of the city."

"Rising Star," Lang's romantic drama set in the Insurance City, will have a rough-cut screening Friday evening at the Mark Twain House & Museum.

The movie is about a workaholic insurance executive, Chris, who hears rumors of layoffs and hits a pub to forget his troubles. There he meets free spirit Alyza, and the two realize they have been chatting on an online dating service. They end up wandering the city together, sharing their stories, comparing their lifestyles, baring their souls.

"Chris devotes his whole life to his job at the expense of hobbies and diversions," Lang says. "Alyza makes her own clothes and is a poet and a dancer but has a hard time holding a job down. The point of the film is finding a balance."

Chris is played by Prospect native Gary Ploski, and Alyza is played by Bristol native Emily Morse. Other roles are played by Michael Barra of Durham and Luz Ramos of Newington.

Ploski and Morse will be at Friday's screening with Lang, along with producer Matthew Giovannucci, director of photography Rachael Levine and film editor Alec Asten, who will attend a 6:30 p.m. reception before the 7:30 screening and do a Q&A afterward. Trailers for other state-produced films also will be shown.

The movie's title will be familiar to anyone who's been paying attention to Hartford promotional campaigns. Lang says that if the film ever gets an audience outside of the region, the title's significance won't be lost on them.

"The title has a triple meaning," he says. "One of them is that Hartford is New England's rising star. It also refers to each of the main characters in the film. Chris' longtime hobby is as an astronomer. It also ties in to Alyza. She has all these hobbies she's chasing, with a bigger goal.

Those at the Twain House screening not only will find out what secrets Lang's plot holds but also can help determine its outcome. After the screenings, viewers will get a questionnaire to comment on the movie, tell what they thought of the characters and events and make suggestions about how the story might be better.

This will be the first in a series of rough-cut screenings. Lang says the Twain House got first dibs as part of a barter deal Lang struck with officials there.

"They gave us a wonderful deal to shoot there. Our budget was next to nothing, and they said, 'We want to help you guys as much as we can,'" Lang says. "The museum is struggling, too, so we agreed to come and shoot there and not hurt anything, and we also agreed to have a screening there, with all the proceeds going entirely to the Mark Twain House."

Patti Philippon, the Beatrice Fox Auerbach chief curator at the Twain House, says documentaries have been filmed at the writer's historic home over the years, including a PBS Ken Burns one about Twain and a film about Twain's friend Yung Wing, the first Chinese student to graduate from an American university. But this is the first narrative feature.

"They were really excited about their project, and they got us excited," Philippon says. "So we started thinking: What can we do to make this beneficial for both of us?"

Other Hartford landmarks featured in the film include the Connecticut Science Center, Bushnell Park, Cedar Hill Cemetery, Alchemy Juice Bar Café and Sully's Pub on Park Street.

Lang says the film is based on his own experiences. "It's based on my life and the struggles I've had with jobs," he says. "Whenever I have a job, I focus on it to the detriment of other things.

"But there is a film that actually inspired the creation of this, an independent film called 'Medicine for Melancholy.' It was a tiiny film shot in San Francisco," he says. "The city really was a character in the film. I thought of doing a film in Connecticut with the same feel to it. Hartford has never seen that before."

"RISING STAR" will be shown in a rough cut at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Mark Twain House & Museum, 351 Farmington Ave., Hartford. Admission is $15, $10 for members and can be reserved by calling 860-280-3130 or purchased at the door.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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