Premier of LaPorte, Indiana Documentary in… LaPorte, Indiana

I was able to score tickets to the premiere of LaPorte, Indiana – a documentary inspired by the book of the same name.

It all started about eight years ago, when Jason Bitner happened in to B&J’s American Cafe in LaPorte, Indiana. At the time, he was going through town on his way to a demolition derby. He happened in to the back room of the restaurant, and there he discovered a photographic treasure trove.

Frank Pease had been a photographer in LaPorte, Indiana for some time. And he held on to a ton (a TON) of photographic proofs, because he couldn’t bear to throw them away. Frank’s studio had been located above B&J’s, and eventually the large collection of photos found their way to the restaurant’s back room. They remained there for over 30 years, until Jason happened across them.

The book showcases a lot of the images from this find, and Jason eventually teamed up with Joe Beshenkovsky (who won an Emmy for his work with This American Life). Together, they explored the lives of the current residents of LaPorte, Indiana and tracked down multiple people who had been photographed by Pease (many of whom were in their 50’s or 60’s).

In case you haven’t seen the trailer, here it is again:

Since the screening was actually in LaPorte, Indiana… I had to leave work a little early. Justin was travelling with me, and we set out on the road at around 4:30 PM.

The drive itself to LaPorte from Chicago is about an hour and a half – the bulk of that trek taken on the I-90 tollway. I asked Justin to navigate, and when I asked him how long we were to be on I-90, he told me it was about 100 miles. So I set my travel odometer, and Justin and I started chatting the rest of the way.

Fast forward about 2 hours. As we were nearing what I thought was our exit, Justin discovered that we had overshot things. And not by a little bit. We had actually gone too far East on I-90, having passed by our exit some 50 miles ago.

We were going off of a printout of the trip, and Justin inadvertently added up the miles for each segment (when in fact Google provides a running, cumulative total). Eep.

So though we had left early with time to spare (4PM to catch a 7:30PM showtime), we suddenly were in danger of being late. I did a U-turn, and hauled ass back towards LaPorte. I have to say… this definitely made the trip there a lot more exciting.

Funny story: this isn’t the first time Justin and I have been in a car, talking, and gotten ourselves off course. I remember another occasion, many years back, where we were driving to Indianapolis and the two of us were engrossed in conversation. We missed our exit and had to double back after maybe 20 miles or so. With the LaPorte overshoot, I think we’ve got a new personal best.

Despite the detour and the briefest of visits to Elkhart, Indiana… we made it to the LaPorte Cinema with time to spare. My goal was to get to the movie theater early, and get some shots of the place and of the crowd. Luckily – everyone was still in line, and I was able to get in some photos right as the sun was setting. All in all, the timing turned out to be pretty perfect.

World premier!

Justin (far right), chatting with Dan and some other folks who had travelled out from Chicago.

A quick shot of the line.

Outside, looking in.

Dan, who co-curated the recent Almost There exhibit at Intuit Gallery.

Aaron, the other co-curator of the show. I found out from both of them that they had gotten a lengthy write-up, in an article on Huffington Post.

Full shot of the marquee and folks waiting inside.

Not sure who this was, but he started interviewing some of the people in line. He found a woman who had a copy of the book, and started doing a mini-interview. Maybe he was filming extras for the DVD?

Concession stand.

It was neat to see the various people who had showed up to attend. There seemed a good mixture of older residents, and some younger kids as well.

More folks in line.

Folks checking in with Jason.


Right before the film started, I snuck down to the front to grab a view of the crowd.

L to R it’s Joe Beshenkovsky, Jason Bitner and Jeremy Gould, the director of photography. The three of them thanked the crowd and the people who participated in the film.

Right before the movie started, I got another photo of the crowd.
I have to say – I enjoyed the documentary immensely. It was as professional a documentary as I’ve ever seen, and it felt like I was watching a show on PBS. There were some very moving moments, and I found lots of the stories very compelling and interesting.

The documentary focused a lot on people who had been photographed by Pease. Some were just toddlers when they had their picture taken, and were seniors by the time they were interviewed.

I kept thinking that the film, to me, was all about youth, the young. Despite the fact that one of the main themes involved Pease’s old photographs… I think a lot of the stories were about who these people were when they were younger, and who they became as they grew older.

The film also followed and interviewed younger kids, currently living in LaPorte. Though they weren’t around during the time when Pease had his studio… they carried many of the same thoughts and aspirations that their parents did. By focusing on the teenagers in LaPorte (young couples getting married, kids graduating), it spoke a lot about who they were going to become.

I really, really enjoyed the film. And I can’t wait to see it again when it (hopefully) shows here in Chicago. I know a lot of friends who would have loved this, but couldn’t make it out to the LaPorte premier. The bulk of the audience was from LaPorte… and only a handful, less than 10 of us, were from Chicago.

One neat thing: after the movie ended, I recognized a lot of the people who had appeared in the film. There was a sudden shift wherein I immediately recognized a complete stranger’s face. It was a little jarring, actually. But neat.

If you’re able to catch one of the upcoming shows, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s playing at the LaPorte Cinema, and will be at the Indianapolis Film Festival on July 17th and July 22nd.

After the screening, there was a small party hosted at B&J’s, the restaurant that had all of Frank Pease’s photos in the back. There’s a shot similar to this one (only much better) in the documentary, showcasing the changing face of LaPorte: BJ’s American Cafe on the right, Mucho Mas! Mexican Grill on the left.

Outside of B&J’s.

Live and Love, LaPorte Indiana

American flag, American Cafe.

View of the interior, by the very front of the cafe.

Folks who had attended the premier, sitting and chatting.

There was some good food, punch and sweets laid out for everyone. And lots of monkeybread, too.

The owner of B&J’s.

Pies and Cobblers.

In the back, I was surprised to find that Pease’s photographs were STILL sitting on shelves, packed in boxes and just… waiting. I don’t even think this photo does the sheer number justice – there were so many, it was mind boggling.

There was nothing inside each box save for photographs. They were all packed full to the brim.

This box was full of envelopes (and I’m guessing with photos inside).

Many folks have come in and located relatives or people they knew. In the documentary, one couple had gotten Pease to photograph their wedding… but ultimately couldn’t afford to pay for the photos. Many years later, they rediscovered their wedding photos in the back of B&J’s.

Sifting through photos is an amazing feeling. It was like being able to physically touch time, in a weird way.

I see why Jason got as obsessed as he did, when he first discovered these. A large part of me wanted to drop all my things, pitch a tent right there in the back room… and go through each and every photograph, box by box by box.

// Update: the documentary is now available in full on YouTube!

Documentary on LaPorte, Indiana: Upcoming Screenings
LaPorte, Indiana: Intuit Gallery
Documentary on LaPorte, Indiana

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Great photos! I feel like I was there…counting on you to win the MSI contest and say hi to the bunnies.Claire

    Claire Reply

  2. One question?
    Just one.
    WHERE can I purchase a copy of this DVD?

    Fred Parker Reply

    • You can view it in full on YouTube! I also updated the post with the video.

      avoision Reply

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