Despite little more than a week’s word-of-mouth marketing, this past Thursday’s first public showing of Jason Stone’s short film “Tender as Hellfire” was a resounding success. Filmed in Porterville last summer, the film drew solid support for the last year from Porterville’s citizens. On this night, 500 of them turned out for the viewing, filling the parking lot, the lobby, and the largest theater.
Many in the crowd were friends and family of extras and crew, waiting to see their loved ones on the silver screen. The 12 people waiting for the midnight opening of Watchmen were left bewildered and wanting to join in the excitement.
The special event, organized by local producers Will Lloyd and Barry Caplan brought out local dignitaries including Chamber of Commerce leader Donette Silva-Carter and Mayor Cam Hamilton.
During celebratory speeches prior to the viewing, Mayor Hamilton presented Stone with the Key to the City. Hamilton said this was an absolutely unprecedented presentation in the history of Porterville. The Mayor took this step in appreciation for the way his film brought the town together and introduced it to the new opportunity of making films.
Stone, graciously accepting the unexpected honor, gave all the credit to the citizens of Porterville who gave their time and their efforts in every possible way to help make the film from the minute he first came to town.
The film, completed only 2 days before the viewing, tells the story of two teen brothers – the younger Sean and Chris (Sean Christian Day and Chris Aguilar, respectively, both locals making their acting debuts) living with their mother (Bellamy Young) and her boyfriend French (John Hawkes) in a dusty rural trailer park
Shown primarily from Sean’s point of view, the film explores the uneasy truce between French and the boys as he wrestles with how much he wants to get to the be involved with the family. Each decision French makes brings the boys one step closer to the end of innocence as the boys find themselves in an inappropriately violent situations while wrestling with the truth about French.
Despite the summer dry and dusty nature of the rural locations, the film is shot in cool blue hues, which only adds to the emotional distance between the characters in difficult times.
Audience members were heard to exclaim excitement at seeing Porterville on the silver screen, and that the establishing shots showed the nature of the town especially well. Many said the details, from dusty roads, deserted high school athletic fields, and spiders spinning webs were not only artistic but also helped the story along.
Stone also announced to the crowd that the film has already been accepted into 4 prestigious film festivals, beginning in April.