Andrew Kightlinger calls his recent award-winning film a love letter to South Dakota, although it goes much deeper than that.
Kightlinger, a Pierre native, was 21 years old when his mother died of a heart attack. "Tater Tot and Patton," his newest independent film, aims to explain the raw emotions of grief that are experienced through mourning.
"I want people who have experienced personal loss that go to it to feel something and understand something," Kightlinger said. "And even if you haven't, I hope it can help you gain an understanding for someone close to you who has."
Staying true to his South Dakota roots, the young movie director now living in Los Angeles will be touring the state to host Q&As throughout the month of March, and Mitchell is on the schedule. Kightlinger will host an after-show talk following the 7 p.m. showing on Sunday, March 10. The full-length movie will make its debut at Logan Luxury 5 Cinemas today, with showtimes at 4:30 p.m., 7:10 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.
Kightlinger considers himself a South Dakota insider and outsider; he was born in Madagascar and moved to Pierre at age 11.
Through having a different perspective on the state he was raised in, the 32-year-old movie director said it's helped him recognize and appreciate the majestic beauty of South Dakota nature. After all, he filmed the entire movie in South Dakota within 20 days.
"I just love South Dakota, and I want people to see that great art can be made here on a cinematic level," he said. "The landscape out here is unique and has its own character, but at the same time the landscape can shape your emotions."
Although Kightlinger chose two well-known actors as the main characters in the film, he used mostly Pierre and Fort Pierre natives for the other characters.
Jessica Rothe, best known for her role in "La La Land," plays Andie, the main character in the film, plays a runaway millenial from Los Angeles. She ends up in South Dakota at the ranch of Erwin, her booze-happy uncle's ranch, who is played by actor Bates Wilder. The two characters form a unique bond throughout the 91-minute film.
"The movie ultimately is about how we find healing in the most unexpected places, and in this case an uncle and niece," Kightlinger said. "I want people to leave the movie knowing they can find somebody to find that healling; it doesn't have to be someone who is necessarily close to you."
Kightlinger has developed a close personal working relationship with Sean Covel, the producer of "Napoleon Dynamite," who is from Edgemont. Kightlinger said Covel has been a vital component in the making of "Tater Tot and Patton."
Kightlinger spent three years writing the movie, which debuted in 2017 at the Dances With Film Festival in Los Angeles, and won the Black Hills Film Festival's Best Feature Film award in 2018.
Before his directing days began, Kightlinger graduated from Augustana University in Sioux Falls with a government and international affairs degree, but he developed a passion for cinematic production during his high school years, which is when he joined the theater program at T.F. Riggs High School in Pierre.
"This would not have been possible without the community of Pierre," Kightlinger said. "We had families making us meals - moms and dads cooking lunches and dinners for us - during the 20 days of shooting."
Since graduating from college, he's been busy making a name for himself as a young movie director. He's compiled a list of movies, including his most popular films, "Dust of War," "Destroyer" and "War Pigs."
Looking toward the future, Kightlinger is already working on some upcoming projects that highlight social problems, such as sex trafficking.
"I like to touch on social issues with my films, and I'm working on a movie about sex trafficking," he said. "I don't know what the future holds, but I love the journey."