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Feature film by alumnus debuts Oct. 18

October  15, 2013

Estlin Feigley

Feigley recommends a liberal arts degree. "You can learn the technical skills in filmmaking, but to tell a story you have to have a broader knowledge base. You have to have something to say and talk about."

When "The Stream" debuts in theaters nationwide Oct. 18, it will be a big day for 200 teenagers and Augustana alumnus Estlin Feigley.

The movie is the first feature-length film produced by Feigley's Dreaming Tree Films of Chicago, which has been making high school students into filmmakers for nearly a decade. It's a coming-of-age comedy set in the summer of '81 at the height of the Star Wars craze, starring Rainn Wilson of "The Office" among others.

It's also a fundraiser. Eighty percent of the proceeds from "The Stream" will go to Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

"Movies can make millions, sometimes billions of dollars. And so we thought, ‘What if all that money could significantly impact a charity's work? What if donating to charity was a simple as buying a movie ticket?' " said Feigley. "So we partnered with Boys & Girls Clubs of America — because they were the not only a great group, but also wonderfully aligned with the work we were doing with teenagers."

Feigley graduated from Augustana in 1993, majoring in history and minoring in theatre arts. He had a theatre scholarship at Augustana and played lead roles in several productions, including "Threepenny Opera" and "The Diviners." After graduating Augustana, Feigley went to the University of Iowa for a master's of fine arts, and pursued an acting career in Los Angeles for a couple of years before moving back to Chicago. He and wife Kelli then formed Dreaming Tree production company.

Feigley said he always tells young filmmakers to go to college for a liberal arts degree. "You can learn the technical skills in filmmaking, but to tell a story you have to have a broader knowledge base," he said. "You have to have something to say and talk about."

Success on the set

Dreaming Tree partnered in 2002 with After School Matters, a Chicago Public Schools program to provide inner-city teens with immersive filmmaking experiences. After seeing how teens flourished from these programs, Dreaming Tree expanded its reach to teens across the country. Their teen-created films have been showcased at more than 25 film festivals and been seen more than 3 million times online, on cable or on DirecTV.

"Youth are our future, and this film is an opportunity for youth to gain real-world skills and know they can be successful. It's also a chance to show that we believe in their potential and their futures by simply renting or watching a movie," said Feigley.

Feigley brought a crew from Dreaming Tree to Augustana in 2001 and filmed a webisode featuring theatre students and theatre Professor Jeff Coussens.

"It's great to see the wonderful work that Estlin and Kelli Feigley are doing," Coussens said. "As one of Estlin's former profs I am proud to see how far he has traveled. Not only has he become a great filmmaker in his own right, but his current charitable work truly embodies the kind of entrepreneurship and service values that we strive to instill in all our students."

"The Stream" is already being sold internationally, and is being released in the top 15 markets with Regal Entertainment Group, the largest theatre chain in the country. "Regal is another partner of Boys & Girls Clubs of America so they took a vested interest in distributing the film," Feigley said.

"But we knew the film would have to stand up on its own. It needed to be good in order to really impact funding for Boys & Girls Clubs," he said. ‘I think we've accomplished that. But just like in theatre, it's up to the audience to decide."

The partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America changed the way the movie was funded. Instead of private investors, the film is funded by corporate foundations and individual donors who want to support the opportunity the teens receive on-set.

Actors, not animation

Feigley directed the "The Stream" and developed the story alongside screenwriter Colin Costello. "The Stream" was produced by the teenagers in the summer of 2012.

"We wanted to create a fun, family film," Feigley said. "The film is live-action, not animated. Everything now is animated. But kids love kids, and actors can bring so much dimension to a film."

He said that because so much of Hollywood's business model relies on box-office sales for the first-weekend, Dreaming Tree is hoping to get as many people as possible to head to the theatres on Oct. 18-20. More box-office receipts could mean a wider release.

In addition to Rainn Wilson, the film features Mario Lopez (‘Extra!", "X Factor"), Kelly Rutherford ("Gossip Girl"), and Christopher Gorham ("Covert Affairs") and is powered by a nostalgic top 40 soundtrack plus John Williams' iconic "Star Wars" score.

The movie will be shown in select Regal Entertainment Group theatres. Although the closest Regal theatre to campus in Moline won't show "The Stream" on its initial release, the movie will eventually be available on Netflix and DVD.