‘Gleahan’ raises the bar for local film industry

Richard Thomas 


David Aldridge
David Aldridge

“Gleahan and the Knaves of Industry” is a movie about a guy who thinks he’s a medieval knight, running around modern-day Duluth. I explained this to a friend who said, “So it’s about Alan Sparhawk?”

My own initial reaction: “Uh, this has been done before.” Specifically, Terry Gilliam’s 1991 “The Fisher King” with Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges, about a guy who thinks he’s a medieval knight, running around modern-day New York. In both films, the knight is followed around by a sane but cynical guy who eventually gets with the quest.

They both draw from the same source, “Don Quixote,” but that’s as far as the similarities go. In “The Fisher King” the quest is to seek the Holy Grail and get the knight a girlfriend. In “Gleahan” the quest is to take down “The Dark Lord,” a local tycoon whose brewery business is a front for drug trafficking. 

Ramona Marosa
Ramona Marozas

The tycoon instructs one of his dealers to befriend the knight so as to lure him in and dispatch him. Why does a powerful gangster bother with a seemingly irrelevant nut? It gets complicated. 

The script is a smart blend of comedy, drama and topical realism and the story is well-paced with action and unexpected twists. It’s also exceptionally well-acted by a mix of professionals and amateurs. 

Writer/director Samuel Weston grew up autistic in Minnesota and settled in Duluth as of 2015. The movie was filmed over the fall and winter of 2017-18. It’s a micro-budget production, $7,000 raised mostly through crowdfunding, plus, off all things, an investment in bitcoins.

Gleahan is played by Weston’s onetime roommate Don Millikan, who has a wandering eye and a personal collection of swords, both of which proved useful for the character. Gleahan’s skeptical squire is played by Kent Dean, a trained actor originally from Duluth. CBS/Channel 3 news producer Ramona Marozas plays the squire’s tough bartender girlfriend who senses Gleahan is not so crazy.

A movie is only good as its villain and this movie has a great villain. David Aldridge, whom Weston met while they both worked at the Androy Hotel and had to be aged 20 years through makeup, dives into his role as the gangster like he’s playing King Lear. There’s a reason for that. Henriette Soderlind and Ian Vincent round out the main cast as the gangster’s scheming, feuding grown children. There’s also a cameo by former city councilor Sharla Gardner as the mayor of Duluth. (Fantasy or foreshadowing?)

Kent Dean and Don Millikan
Photos: Battlemage Films

Duluthians got their first glimpse of a rough cut (90 percent finished) at the 2018 Duluth-Superior Film Festival last spring. The fully finished product aired Jan. 5 in Lincoln Park’s former Trinity Lutheran Church, now owned by Spark Works, an entrepreneur collective. 

The film has its share of first-effort production problems. Background noise kicks in and out and at times the music renders the dialogue inaudible. But all that’s forgivable, balanced against what’s good about it.

“Youtube is the best resource, I would say, for anybody who wants to get into film,” Weston said at the January discussion after the screening. “Used to be film school, but now everything that film school teaches, you can learn the same thing for free on Youtube.”

He used a BlackMagic production camera purchased from a friend. Editing and the music score was done on free downloadable software. 

“I went into it hoping to find someone would could help me make stereotypical epic music because that’s exactly what would be perfect for the movie,” he said. “I was like, ‘I can’t find any composer. Okay, I’m gonna try to do it myself.’ I don’t know how it turned out, but the results kind of speak for themselves.” 

Turned out very well. While watching the movie I wished (wishfully, I thought) that the soundtrack was available separately on cd. Indeed it is.

For Twin Ports viewers, the amusement is seeing their home on the big screen: Look, it’s the Lakewalk! Enger Tower! Fitger’s! Lake Superior Brewing! Superior Warehouse! Those cliffs on East First Street across from the clinic! The Iron Range! And, quite possibly, your neighborhood.

“Sundays when there’s nobody driving around, when most people would be at church, it’s surprisingly a great time for gorilla filmmaking,” Weston said. 

Other locations required more formal arrangements, such as insurance to film in the warehouse. “The people who actually own the property were really chill about all of this, just that one little thing,” he said.

Weston has enough material in mind to make a Gleason trilogy. “If we keep getting bombarded with people saying, ‘Hey, we want more of this,’ we’ll be forced to make more.” More!

“Gleahan and the Knaves of Industry” and its soundtrack are available on DVD and cd at battlemagefilms.com.