Campbell River’s Michael Stevantoni shot his feature film Desert Shores during 12 sweltering days in Southern California in 2015. Image from michaelstevantoni.com

Young filmmaker returns from Hollywood to screen award-winning movie in Campbell River

Michael Stevantoni to speak at April 16 screening of his film Desert Shores at the Tidemark Theatre

A young filmmaker is returning from Hollywood to his hometown of Campbell River for the first-ever Canadian screening of his award-winning feature film.

The screening of Desert Shores at the Tidemark is set for April 16, just days after the Los Angeles premiere. Carihi Secondary graduate Michael Stevantoni, 23, says he’s excited to screen the film for a hometown crowd following years of work.

“It’s really exciting and it’s really affirming,” he said in a phone interview from L.A. “It’s been such a long road.”

In 2014, Stevantoni started working on the script based on a collection of short stories called Salton Sea by George McCormick, who consulted on the screenplay, and the film was shot the following summer.

Stevantoni came across the book after moving to California for film school and exploring the area surrounding the actual Salton Sea, a saline lake. He describes the area as one of the most surreal landscapes he’s ever seen.

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“In its heyday, it was designed to be a kind of new Palm Springs vacation destination, and there were a lot of yacht clubs and hotels – Frank Sinatra was there,” he said.

Man-made ecological disasters contributed to the area’s decline, he said.

“It became toxic water that killed tens of thousands of fish that were just washing up on the shore, and essentially turned the place into a ghost town within a couple of seasons,” he said.

Some people still live there, believing the area is due for a renewal, but the place is largely a forgotten relic of an abandoned American dream.

That bleak setting, which helped form Stevantoni’s first impressions of the United States, is meant to reflect conditions in the country more broadly.

“In the film, it’s supposed to mirror the larger state of America, where people are struggling with that identity and what the future is and romanticizing the past,” he said.

Michael Stevantoni, shown in an undated file photo, will be speaking at the Tidemark on April 16 for the screening of his film Desert Shores.

The film portrays a married couple that travels to the Salton Sea area in 2002 for a kind of second honeymoon in an attempt to rekindle their relationship. The drama involves a job offer in Washington, D.C., and the prospect of relocating there from California, just as a series of sniper attacks takes place in the U.S. capital.

The film was shot over the course of 12 blisteringly hot days on a shoestring budget raised through crowdfunding.

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Stevantoni saved money on production by filming in abandoned locations, and he described it as a passion project for everyone involved.

The heat, which was upwards of 37 C every day, created what Stevantoni described as a kind of “creative delirium” during a process that left no time for thinking, just doing.

No trailer is available as a distribution agreement is still being finalized, with a possible release later this year. But the film has garnered accolades including the Best Feature in the US category at the Blow-Up International Arthouse Film Festival in Chicago, where the film opened last November.

The film also won Best Feature at the Nacogdoches Film Festival in Texas, and was nominated for Best Feature at the ABQ Indie Film Festival in New Mexico.

Aside from the festival circuit, Stevantoni said he’s working on projects including music videos and another feature, which he hopes to film this summer.

Desert Shores screens on April 16 at 7 p.m. at the Tidemark Theatre. Admission is $9, or $7 for CRFF pass holders and students, plus applicable taxes and fees.