Premier of ‘Greencastle’ brings Hollywood home

Koran Dunbar and his son Aurelius played father and son in the movie Dunbar wrote, directed and produced.

By the time the premier of the movie "Greencastle" was over, the red carpet at the Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown had disappeared. The midnight hour was approaching for people attending the after-party. But the sold out audience and members of the cast and crew of the regionally-produced movie were flying high, all smiles and chatter about Koran Dunbar's first venture into filmmaking.

"Greencastle" was shot over two months last summer at 29 locations, many in Greencastle, Waynesboro and Hagerstown. Four hundred and fifty people were involved in the project, which resulted in a full-length independent film that is making waves in the industry. It won Best Sound/Audio at the Idyllwild Film Festival in California in January, and was nominated for Best Feature, Best Screenplay and Best Musical Score.

Dunbar was the featured participant for the unveiling of the movie Saturday night, but was consistent in thanking everyone who contributed since his dream was first conceived, and crediting God for the opportunities along the way.

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The red carpet affair drew cast, crew and fans who rivaled what Hollywood puts out on awards nights. Women appeared in formal gowns, spiked heels and sparkles, men in tuxedos and suits. Several limosines rolled up to the entrance of the theatre, depositing people with special connections to the production. They walked past hoards of photographers and media stationed behind ribbon barriers, some pulled aside for video interviews.

Dunbar said he was numb from the turnout and excitement. "I never expected this. Actors and musicians from L.A. are here, too. That means I did something right."

The movie was the epitome of what he wanted to do with his life.

"Either someone sells you, or you sell yourself. I want people to walk away inspired. If Dunning (main character played by Dunbar) can find success, anyone can."

Dunbar, a Greencastle-Antrim High School Class of 2000 graduate, and classmate Waylon K. Smith first formulated their vision while sitting on the bench during their Blue Devil basketball days. Dunbar eventually became the writer/director/producer of a movie, and Smith the assistant director. He also was script consultant and had an acting role.

Before figuratively rolling the reels, Dunbar addressed the crowd to a standing ovation. His grandfather, with whom he lived for many years, had been skeptical of the movie project and called him a 'nincompoop'. Elmer Dunbar used the same term in the same role in the movie. However, Dunbar kept going, despite setbacks in his personal life and stints at many jobs. An acting coach told him he 'sucked', he once lived out of his car, and he lost faith in himself. With the support of his son Aurelius, who played his son in the movie, his family and friends, he propelled forward.

Dunbar became emotional as he spoke of the low days that preceded that moment, the premier on March 31. At crunch time in deciding to make a movie, he chose his hometown for the title and venue of the grand enterprise.

"If you can't do it where you're living, you can't do it anywhere," he said.

Greencastle's Chris Musser volunteered for the crew and became key grip. Dunbar's influence rubbed off.

"This got me to start on my dreams of filmmaking."

He enrolled in college for photography. He predicted the crowd "will go insane" when they saw "Greencastle".

Production manager David Vanderveer, Falling Waters, W. Va., noted the work that went behind the final product. Rags 2 Riches Productions raised $12,700 through an online site to help with expenses; six corporate sponsors stepped up; the longest day of shooting was 18 hours; and the most expensive was the pet store scene in Waynesboro.

"I walked out of there with a $400 puppy, and my wife got a $175 speeding ticket," he mused, to laughter from the audience.

Tom Riford, from the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, welcomed the guests to "Hagerstown, the gateway to Greencastle."

Professional comedian and actor Quevaugh Bryant from Los Angeles entertained with a comic set, tossing a few blue words into the mix to the receptive crowd. He played Dunning's birth father in the movie.

Cindy Leckron, Greencastle, worked behind the scenes for the endeavor. "I've known Koran since he was a kid. It's nice to see him exceed everybody's expectations. I hope everyone understands how important this is to him."

Ralph Mauriello, Hagerstown, who played the role of the pet store owner, was honored that Dunbar wrote the part specifically for him.

"I'm thrilled to death to be part of this. The message is wonderful."

The message

Teasers for the film called it "a quirky offbeat drama about man’s search for meaning amidst the ache of despair. It chronicles Poitier, a single father who works as an assistant manager at a small town pet shop. He enters a 'quarter-life crisis' impelled by a recent tragedy. Greencastle intertwines lives of loneliness and disconnection, fatefully leading Poitier toward an unexpected and sublime awakening."

The plot is much deeper. Poitier's ex-wife dies in an automobile accident involving someone he least expected to be with her. That betrayal haunted him as much as the fact that they couldn't make their marriage work. The lead female role, played by Nikki Estridge, a Washington D.C. actress, has a secret past as a porn star, and the two characters have to make amends as they seek happiness.

Scenes familiar to viewers include Fun Castle, Jerome R. King Playground, Sunnyway Foods, Sunnyway Diner, Center Square, Sweet Pea Desserts, Dixon's Garage, the rural countryside and other places around town.

Vanderveer said 131 scenes were filmed in 1,000 takes, "and not one of them began on time."

Local residents will be recognized, both in speaking roles and as extras. Professionals are interspersed with amateurs, and viewers can try to decipher which are which.

Dunbar doesn't plan to take much time off.

"Sleep is the cousin of death," he said. "I want to start another project soon. Whatever God puts in my way, I want to be ready."

Koran Dunbar's character, Poitier Dunning, received this piece of advice from his foster father.