© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Small Town Wisconsin' comes home for its world theatrical premiere at the Oriental Theatre

Woman hugs a man as he stands in front of her.
Courtesy of "Small Town Wisconsin"
Kristen Johnston and David Sullivan play siblings Alicia and Wayne in "Small Town Wisconsin."

The film Small Town Wisconsin follows Wayne Stobierski — a perpetual teenager who whisks his son away for one last father-son weekend after losing a custody battle. They take a road trip from up north to travel to the city of their dreams — Milwaukee, Wis. What’s supposed to be a light-hearted family adventure ultimately turns into a journey of redemption.

The film first premiered in 2020 as a part of the virtual Milwaukee Film Festival. Since then, it has had an incredibly successful film festival circuit run, winning more than 40 awards internationally. Its popularity in the independent film festival circuit lead to its recent acquisition by Quiver Distribution and Friday evening, Small Town Wisconsin will make its world theatrical premiere at Milwaukee's Oriental Theatre with the whole cast and production team in attendance. It will run exclusively at the Oriental for a week and then be released in national theaters and on demand.

The film was written by Wauwatosa native Jason Naczek and directed by Milwaukee native Niels Mueller.

"I fell in love with the idea of making this film because I grew up with characters like this," Mueller explains.

He says not only is the film inspired by Wisconsin life, but was also made by largely local crew with over 20 crew members alumni or current UW-Milwaukee Film Department students. Authenticity both in front of and behind the camera is something the Mueller says was crucial in order for Small Town Wisconsin to work.

"I told every prospective investor, I said to do this film authentically I must, must shoot in Wisconsin," he notes. "I can’t shoot Georgia for Wisconsin — it’s not just locations, it’s a whole cultural feel, how people behave."

Mueller notes that only the lead actor David Sullivan who plays Wayne is the outcast of the local production — being from Texas, "but he had small town in his blood and bones and we just had to teach him how to pronounce words like 'oil.'"

The film also stars Milwaukee native Kristen Johnston as his sister Alicia; Bill Heck as Wayne's friend Chuck, and Cooper Friedman as Wayne's son Tyler.

Sullivan says that it was the heart in this Midwestern story that attracted him to the role. "When I read Wayne, I didn't see a screw up. I saw somebody who was trying really, really hard with the tools that he had," he says.

Mueller also made sure that the cast and crew were in Milwaukee throughout the process, including rehearsals before any film was captured. "Just being in and around Milwaukee, ... I really felt like I was in this world. As good as an actor as I claim to be, nothing is like really immersing yourself in the culture and stories and lives of the people around you. And so I was really fortunate to get to do that," Sullivan says.

Mueller notes that there are very few films about our part of the Midwest, and he hopes that the backdrop of Wisconsin seen through Wayne's journey flavored with comedy and heart serves especially local audiences well.

"I wanted to do something authentic to Wisconsin to capture how funny people can be here in a grounded way, but just also the richness of life here in a part of the country that doesn't get looked at very frequently," he says.

Small Town Wisconsin will premiere June 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre with the whole cast and crew of the film scheduled to attend.

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Related Content