EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Michael McGuire answers questions Friday from the community that helped him to make his independent film “Aquarians,” which was shot in Marinette and Menominee counties. McGuire is a Marinette native.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Michael McGuire answers questions Friday from the community that helped him to make his independent film “Aquarians,” which was shot in Marinette and Menominee counties. McGuire is a Marinette native.

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MARINETTE — Nowadays it usually takes a critically-acclaimed blockbuster to fill up a movie theater, but the seats of the Mariner Theatre in Marinette were packed Friday night with local citizens who came to enjoy some homegrown cinema. 

The locally-shot movie “Aquarians” opened Friday with a full house, bringing the first feature-length film for director Michael M. McGuire, a Marinette native, full circle — back to where it all began.

“Aquarians” was shot in Marinette, Menominee and the surrounding areas in the early winter months of 2016, bringing in local actors for small roles and residents as extras. The film itself, as McGuire describes it, “showcases the wintry landscape of northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan in a comedic brotherhood drama.” The film stars Shane Coffey (”Pretty Little Liars,” “Sugar Mountain”), Tracey Fairaway (”Enough Said,” “A Hologram For The King”) and Chandler Massey, best known for his triple Emmy-winning role as Will Horton on “Days Of Our Lives.” Veteran character actor Richard Riehle (”Casino,” “Office Space”), Pete Schwaba (”The Godfather of Green Bay”) and acclaimed Midwest theater actors James DeVita and Colleen Madden round out the supporting cast, as well as Marinette’s Theatre on the Bay alums John Thornberry and Rebecca Stone Thornberry.

A year ago, the finished film began its tour around the film festival circuit, garnering praise at its premiere in the 2017 Twin Cities Film Fest with a nomination for Best Performance by Massey and a selection as the Audience Award Runner-Up out of more than 100 films. “Aquarians” also received praise at the 2018 Palm Springs International Film Festival, where it was programmed alongside a number of Oscar-nominated films and oversold both of its screenings, and at the Beloit International Film Festival, where the film was named Best Wisconsin Feature.

When it came time to seek a wider release, McGuire decided that he wanted to start small and bring the film back to the people who will most appreciate it. The “Aquarians” team decided “to flip the typical release pattern for independent films on its head,” and partner with independent and family-owned theaters in small towns across the region to bring the film to the audiences who will most relate to and appreciate the story, characters and setting.

Following the premiere on Friday, McGuire, Schwaba, second assistant director Trinidy McMahon and the Thornberrys participated in a question-and-answer session for the audience, hosted by McGuire’s former theatrical director at Marinette Middle School, Mitch Maurer. 

“What a wonderful, wonderful film you’ve made,” Maurer said to McGuire prior to opening the floor to questions. “Extremely touching. Really, thank you, it’s just great.” 

When asked what were the most challenging parts of making the film, McMahon said that he found filming in Marinette and Menominee counties in the middle of winter to be the most difficult, as many of the cast and crew were from Los Angeles. McGuire said he was most challenged by fundraising to make the film and overcoming his own personal hurdles about asking others to invest time, money and energy in the project. 

“Having the confidence to trust enough in myself and in the project that it would be a worthwhile venture, that was part of it,” he said. 

McGuire’s mother, Becky McGuire, said she was incredibly proud of her son’s work. 

“Before it opened in Minneapolis at the film festival, he called me and told me to prepare myself emotionally,” she said. “I didn’t really know what that meant. When I saw the movie, I was blown away.” 

In response to a question about what he wanted audiences to take away from the movie, director McGuire said he hoped they would come away with a sense of forgiveness and the release of guilt. 

“I think, ultimately, the movie is about confronting things that we carry guilt for that are out of our control, and forgiving ourselves,” he said. “And that healing that comes from letting go of pain, that frees you to resume who you’re meant to be.” 

In addition to opening at the Mariner Theatre, the film will also be showing at the following theaters: Cloverland Cinemas in Ironwood, Mich.; Tivoli Theater in Stephenson.; Palace Twin Theater in Antigo; Bay Cinema in Ashland, Wis.; Micon Stadium 8 in Chippewa Falls, Wis.; Vilas Cinema in Eagle River, Wis.; Hayward Cinema in Hayward, Wis.; Rivoli Theatre & Pizzeria in La Crosse, Wis.; Shawano Cinema in Shawano, Wis.; Sparta Cinema 6 in Sparta, Wis.; Sturgeon Bay Cinema 6 in Sturgeon Bay; and Lakeland Cinema 6 in Woodruff, Wis. 

As for home viewing distribution, McGuire said the movie will be available to stream on Amazon Prime and iTunes later this fall. Audiences are also able to pre-order a physical Blu-ray copy of on the film’s website. 

“Aquarians” is unrated, but contains adult language, situations and light drug use. Parental discretion is advised. The movie runs for approximately 103 minutes. More information about McGuire and “Aquarians” can be found on the film’s website: www.aquariansthemovie.com.