The Road to Galena follows one man’s pursuit of personal fulfillment over traditional success. Cole Baird (Ben Winchell) has everything – a beautiful wife, successful career, large home and fancy toys. Behind the facade, however, is a man trapped by his surroundings and falling ever behind in the pursuit of his life’s dream. Not strong enough to confront his father’s expectations, he left his true love, his best friend and a fulfilling small-town life to embark on a legal career – intent, one day, to return. Now the rising star in Washington social circles and the youngest managing partner in the history of a powerhouse D.C. law firm, Cole is given the choice to continue the path of success in a life to which he never aspired or to return to the community that nurtured him. The Road to Galena is an American narrative feature film.
Award-winning filmmaker Joe Hall, (Best Director PEER Awards for The Toast and Here There and Everywhere as well as Matilda Mench, which also won a CINE Golden Eagle), has written and directed his first feature-length film with The Road to Galena.
How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?
I followed a non-traditional path to filmmaking. Having always had a passion for the art, I missed the opportunity for academic training in the subject and launched my career in film by starting a production company with the intent to learn the craft through hands-on experience. I'd been fascinated by short films for many years and turned to the format to hone my skill-set in directing and producing -- and to build a community that would serve as a foundation for larger projects. My first film, The Toast, written by my sister, author Susan Pohlman, went on to win a best director TIVA Peer Award. I was hooked. We proceeded to shoot six shorts, among them, Matilda Mench, which won the Cine Golden Eagle for Independent Short.
What was the inspiration behind making "The Road to Galena" and why was it important for you to direct this feature?
Too many of us spend our lives driven by societal definitions of success -- many holding their passions quietly inside, some for a lifetime. When I wrote The Road to Galena, I thought it would be more compelling if the hero's aspiration was not wealth, fame or power -- but a sense of place, community and purpose. The notion of giving up the trappings of material success for something meaningful seemed a more challenging decision -- and a new way to frame the issue. In the film, there are no villains; every character is likeable or dislikable subject only to their circumstances -- to include City Life vs. Rural Life or Big Business vs. Small. None are inherently good or bad, they are merely right or wrong in the context of our individual aspirations. In this post-COVID environment, when so many have taken the opportunity to reassess their own life journeys, it seemed the appropriate moment to share this story.
What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker in the film industry in this era?
The technological advances in filmmaking and distribution have, I believe, made filmmaking far more accessible. Financing, of course, is a reliable foe for independent filmmakers, but the tools required to bring beautiful imagery to the screen have lessened in cost and the variety of outlets have increased opportunities to share one's work with a broad audience.
How difficult is it to fund independent feature films and how did your film go into production?
After years of effort, one conversation tipped the domino that led to production of The Road to Galena. I was having lunch with a mentor and sharing the latest update on our film -- we had again run into a financing hurdle and were looking at another reboot. After hearing my long-winded tale of woe, my colleague leaned forward and whispered, "I know what your problem is." "Lay it on me," I said. He replied, "You've spent the last several years solving a financial equation. Every time a variable falls out of that equation, you start rebuilding the formula from scratch. Stop trying to solve an equation and just make the movie." I realized in that moment that we had indeed been letting our target budget drive our process. We, instead, looked at the resources available to us, revised our production to suit, and the rest fell into place.
Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work?
I developed an early appreciation for theater and film watching classic movies as a child, inspired by the story-telling of great directors such as Frank Capra, John Huston, and Robert Redford. Films like It' a Wonderful Life, and Redford's The Milagro Beanfield War, captured my imagination as they shared powerful stories of regular people.
How did you finalize the cast and the crew?
We were blessed with a remarkable crew -- many Baltimore-based -- all of whom rallied around the story and the challenge of shooting at the height of the pandemic. The Maryland Film Commission championed the production from the outset and provided a guiding hand in securing the production leadership and navigating the tax incentives. With regard to the cast, I interviewed -- via Zoom due to the pandemic -- a wide range of wonderful actors prior to casting our leads. Each brought a unique perspective to their roles that enriched the story. While COVID posed a challenge, it also prompted us to secure an otherwise shuttered retreat center for the cast and crew to be isolated during the shoot. This pastoral environment, complete with fire ring for post-shoot wind-downs, helped to build a wonderful camaraderie amongst the entire company.
What is your plan for further distribution of the film?
The film has been released theatrically in the US and will have its European Premier at the Prague Independent Film Festival September 17.
What do you recommend to other filmmakers regarding the making and the distribution of independent feature drama films?
Never give up.
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?
My next film is Paranoid, a thriller set in New York City. The film will be produced by AVA Independent and is slated for production in Q1 of 2023.
Why do you make films and what makes the language of cinema stand out to you amongst other arts?
Like great books and music, film has the ability to captivate an audience -- whether for entertainment, distraction or introspection. But unlike those other media, which tell stories but leave it to the reader/listener to visualize them in their own minds, cinema offers the filmmaker the nearly limitless opportunity to convey their vision of the story, brought to life through a remarkable collaboration of creative talent from every corner of the industry. Ask anyone the name of their favorite movie and they'll start with one, then add three, four or five others that also hang with them -- whether they were seen five years ago or fifty. Cinema is lasting and universal.