WORTHINGTON - A special movie, complete with the Hollywood trappings of a red carpet reception and the presence of its filmmakers, will be screened at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Filmed in South Dakota, “Tater Tot and Patton” tells the story of a wayward millennial - “Tater Tot,” as her uncle called her in her youth - who returns to her relatives’ South Dakota ranch after undergoing treatment for an addiction.
“It was shot on a ranch north of Pierre, in the same area where ‘Dances with Wolves’ was filmed,” said Andrew Kightlinger, the movie’s writer and director.
“One of the reasons we shot it there is because the endless landscape and naked horizons are a direct reflection of what loss feels like,” he continued.
“The horizon represents both hope and despair.”
Kightlinger lived in Pierre as an adolescent and teenager, but he was born in Madagascar and spent the first 12 years of his life in that exotic locale. His parents were medical missionaries who worked for the Lutheran church as microbiologists.
“I grew up speaking both French and English and lived in the rainforest,” said Kightlinger. “And then, when I was 12, we moved to Pierre.”
Now 31 years old, Kightlinger said his out-of-the-ordinary upbringing motivated his interest in film - ironically, because he experienced so little visual media as a young child.
“The first movie I ever saw was ‘ET’ when I was 5, and I knew right away that I wanted to make movies,” he said.
After pursuing a bachelor’s degree in international government and French at Augustana in Sioux Falls, S.D., Kightlinger proceeded to Boston University. There, he earned a master’s degree in film production in 2011 before moving to Los Angeles.
For a year, he worked for a company owned by Stephen Spielberg, director of the movie that inspired Kightlinger’s dream.
“But I realized that in order to hone my craft, I needed to move back to the Midwest and make movies about that,” said Kightlinger.
Beginning in the fall of 2015, Kightlinger began bringing his vision for “Tater Tot and Patton” to life.
Mason Makram, a 2008 Luverne High School graduate and the son of Tammy Makram, the managing director of Memorial Auditorium, was among the friends and acquaintances Kightlinger put to work on the film shoot.
“Mason was our second assistant director,” attributed Kightlinger. “He was in charge of a lot of the background machinations on set and essentially made sure everything ran well.”
Having received positive feedback about “Tater Tot and Patton” in the Midwest, at the Napa Valley Film Festival and on the East Coast, Kightlinger is pleased to have the chance to bring it to Worthington, where a regional audience will likely find it easily relatable.
“The festival route has been a journey, and I have found people see the honesty in the film,” he said. “They see the loss, grief and addiction honestly portrayed, and we’ve had responses from audience members who’ve said, ‘Oh, that reminds me of when I lost my parents, or brother.’”
Kightlinger’s mother died when he was 21, so he said he’s poured his own grief into his artistic work.
Tammy Makram is enthusiastic about having “Tater Tot and Patton” shown there.
“I loved it,” she said of the film. “The cinematography is spectacular, with wide open spaces and scenery that will be familiar to most people in this area.
“It’s a fun opportunity to bring the film here, and both Andrew and Mason are available to come and be a part of it.”
On Saturday, the doors will open at 6 p.m. for a pre-film red carpet reception, with the screening at 7 p.m.
A question-and-answer period with Kightlinger and Mason Makram, who holds a degree in cinema from Minneapolis Community and Technical College, will follow the movie.
“Tater Tot and Patton” premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard, and both Kightlinger and Makram currently live and work in Los Angeles.
“’Tater Tot and Patton’ got me through the doors I needed to open so I could find a world-class manager and move into the next project,” said Kightlinger, who is now furiously working to write two movies - one a sex trafficking drama and the other in the science fiction genre.
Mason Makram is presently employed at Netflix, where he creates social media teasers to promote upcoming Netflix series.
Although “Tater Tot and Patton” remains unrated, it contains strong language, heavy thematic elements and brief nudity.
With its marketing tagline, “Everyone needs to be found,” “Tater Tot and Patton” promises to tug at people’s heartstrings - and with Kightlinger on site Saturday, curious audience members can learn how that was done.
“The audience will have a chance to ask questions and hear the filmmakers explain how it was made,” said Makram.
“It’s a chance to feature area artists - and of course this is fun because my son is a part of it - and promote what a great place the auditorium is to see movies.”
A special movie screening event of “Tater Tot and Patton” takes place Saturday at Memorial Auditorium, 714 13th St., Worthington, with a pre-film red carpet reception from 6 to 7 p.m., film screening at 7 p.m. and a post-film Q & A with Andrew Kightlinger and Mason Makram. There is a $5 per person fee for the movie.