Mitchell moviegoers will have a chance to see a historical war drama directed by a South Dakotan on the big screen next week.
“The Great War,” written, produced and directed by Pierre native and former Mitchell resident Steven Luke, will screen at Logan Luxury 5 Theater in Mitchell beginning Friday and continuing through Dec. 17 with matinee and evening showings. The film is based on actual events that took place during the very last days of World War I, when a group of American soldiers on the front in Europe are sent to rescue a lost platoon composed of African American soldiers.
The film is the latest offering from Luke, who graduated from South Dakota State University in 2009 with a degree in history before he moved west to pursue a career in the film industry.
“I started (filmmaking) in high school. When you enjoy movies you start making little movies with friends, and it grew and grew,” Luke said.
Following college, he folded his love of history into his filmmaking pursuits, moved to Los Angeles and began working as an actor, producer and director on small, independent films. His credits as an actor include “Dust of War,” “Wunderland” and “War Pigs,” and he has 17 producing credits listed on the Internet Movie Database.
But “The Great War” is a film he had been hoping to make for years.
“This specific movie was the movie I pitched to production companies seven or eight years ago. I call it my baby that I always wanted to make,” Luke said.
The film focuses on the heroic actions of American soldiers in the final days of the war and the relationship of the men who shared the brotherhood of combat despite social and racial tensions that were common in the day, Luke said. The characters grow through their interaction and cooperation with each other in the midst of a deadly, uncertain situation.
The film is expected to be released on DVD and BluRay in the near future, but Luke wanted to give South Dakotans a chance to experience the drama on the big screen. He contacted Jeff Logan, owner of the Luxury 5 Theatres, who had presented the first film Luke produced, “Dust of War,” years ago at his theater in Mitchell.
Logan said when he heard Luke had another film he was looking to present, he jumped on board.
“Anytime we can help support a South Dakota filmmaker, we’re happy to do it. Because they give a voice and a viewpoint to our part of the country. You want to help a South Dakotan when you can,” Logan said.
Logan has not yet seen “The Great War,” but he already knows something about the story. By coincidence, Logan’s father, Nelson, served in the unit that performed gunnery repair and provided training to the pilots who supported the ground troops in the battles portrayed in the film. Two pilots from his unit were awarded the Medal of Honor for their service. Another worked with the lost platoon on the ground, helping them better understand the system of colored panels they carried to signal pilots in the air of their movements and condition in the days before radio communication was more common.
“Because my dad was old when he married and had me, he was in World War I, so I’m familiar with the subject matter,” Logan said.
He said he heard first hand how African American soldiers were subjected to unequal treatment by their commanders, many of whom were from the American deep south and still carried old prejudices.
Making the film was a chance to revisit events that are becoming more and more lost to history as time passes. Nov. 11, 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, and no veterans of the conflict remain alive. Being able to tell the story of the lost squadron, their struggles and their comrades who fought to bring them back alive was also vitally important, Luke said.
Luke, who moved back to Pierre in recent years and is the head of Schuetzle Productions, is expected to be on hand for a Dec. 13 screening in Mitchell to introduce the film and take part in a question and answer session following the screening. That showing is scheduled for 7 p.m. It will be a chance for moviegoers to engage with an up and coming filmmaker whose aspirations began making small movies in South Dakota with his friends in high school.
And there are more features on the way for Luke. He is currently working on a western that will star Sam Worthington, who starred in “Avatar,” among other films.
Logan said based on the quality of Luke’s previous work and subject matter of the film, seeing “The Great War” on a big screen will be an opportunity audiences will want to make time for.
“We’re bringing it in on the confidence in the quality of his previous movies. It’s kind of a busy week before Christmas, but as an action movie, (the big screen) is where it should be seen,” Logan said.
A trailer for the film, which is rated R for war violence, can be found on YouTube. Logan said a full list of screening times will appear at loganmovie.com.