Short film about East Lawrence history and iconic Wishing Bench will premiere this week

photo by: Marlo Angell

A still from the short film, "The Wishing Bench" featuring actors Maxine Nwachukwu, left, and José Faus, right.

A short film featuring the mysterious and iconic East Lawrence Wishing Bench will premiere this week in the neighborhood that gave the film its story.

The 12-minute film, which is simply titled “The Wishing Bench,” is one of the final works of art in the Rebuilding East Ninth Street public art project, and director Marlo Angell focused on integrating the stories and memories of the East Lawrence neighborhood into the screenplay, holding events to allow residents to share their ideas.

At the center of it, of course, is the elaborately decorated bench — a shrine-like collection of objects with a sign that reads, “Sit and make a wish. You will not be disappointed.”

In the film, an out-of-towner, portrayed by University of Kansas student Maxine Nwachukwu, sits at the Wishing Bench, believing it to be a bus stop. She gets into a conversation with an older Mexican American man from East Lawrence, portrayed by José Faus. They discuss the history of East Lawrence, including the story of La Yarda, a housing complex built for Mexican railroad workers in the mid-1920s that was destroyed in the flood of 1951.

Little is known about how the bench came to be, according to a 2018 article from the Journal-World. Some people believe it was once a temporary University of Kansas School of Architecture project that eventually was “adopted” by the neighborhood. It doesn’t have formal ownership, and is continuously changing with additions from community members.

Angell said these qualities make it the perfect setting for a film focused on memories and taking a minute to sit and reflect. It was also the ideal place for a film that doubles as a community art project.

“The Wishing Bench is such a beautiful, iconic east Lawrence landmark,” Angell said. “What I love about it — it’s always changing … things are added to it, things are taken away. In itself it’s a community art project.”

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Community input has been a theme for the film — and the broader project it belongs to — since the very beginning, Angell and other people associated with Rebuilding East Ninth Street have told the Journal-World.

The Rebuilding East Ninth Street initiative consists of 19 community art projects and is funded by a $500,000 ArtPlace America grant that was awarded to the Lawrence Arts Center in June 2014, as the Journal-World previously reported. In 2019, project facilitator Mandy Enfield told the Journal-World that the selection process for the artworks was heavily dependent on how the artists would engage with the neighborhood’s residents. She said the proposals that were chosen “really, really got the community involvement and the community engagement that we were looking for.”

And when production started on the film, Angell made sure to get the neighborhood’s input every step of the way.

Prior to the film’s production, Angell said, she read notes from East Lawrence Neighborhood Association meetings about what the community wanted from its public art. She organized story circles in which neighborhood tales were shared. And after the first draft of the screenplay was written, a public staged reading was held so that community members could give their feedback.

What Angell found, she said, is that the community was interested in art that portrays the diversity and history of East Lawrence. So Angell “incorporated actual memories (from community members) and put it in a fictional setting.”

“It really gave voice to the community,” Angell said, noting that the film is “not just a single artist putting their vision out there.”

Most of the film’s production team lives in Lawrence. Local musicians Alex Kimball Williams and Mike Quillin created an original score for the film. Erika Kjorlie Geery served as the costumer designer and prop stylist. Ric Averill plays a side character in the film. Local filmmaker Jeremy Osbern served as cinematographer, and his wife, Misti Boland, served as the producer.

The bench itself also got a few touch-ups for the film — East Lawrence fiber artist Catherine Reed “contributed to the aesthetic look of the Wishing Bench for the film shoot,” according to the film’s website.

That was important, Angell noted, because “The Wishing Bench is one of the main characters of the film.”

photo by: Erika Kjorlie Geery

From left, Maxine Nwachukwu, José Faus, Chris Blunk and Jeremy Osbern are pictured behind the scenes during the fall 2019 shoot of the short film “The Wishing Bench.”

photo by: Erika Kjorlie Geery

A fall 2019 picture of behind the scenes production of the short film “The Wishing Bench.”

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Nwachukwu, who plays the newcomer Meera in the film, was also a newcomer to the Wishing Bench in real life. The KU senior said she was not aware it existed until she got involved in the production.

Nwachukwu said she appreciates that the film tells a diverse story, and that she learned a lot about the Latino community in Lawrence through the film. She expects people will take away increased knowledge about the history of Lawrence and the belief that “communication is so vital to our society.”

“People can see the type of connection you can have with anyone — regardless of age or background,” she said.

The premise of the film was inspired by a nursing home in Düsseldorf, Germany, that built a fake bus stop in front of the building to help prevent dementia patients from wandering off.

“The simple placement of a bench provided a comforting destination for those that were driven to find a place to go,” the website for “The Wishing Bench” states.

Angell said her favorite part of the short film is its ending.

“I feel like the ending of the film … really represents the bench. It’s mysterious,” she said. It also leaves one “with a sense of place and a sense of how important it is to live in the here and now as well as looking back in the past.”

The screening of “The Wishing Bench” will occur on Saturday, Oct. 3, at 7, 7:30 and 8 p.m. in the courtyard area next to the Cider Gallery, located at 810 Pennsylvania Street. It is free and open to the public. There are three screenings in order to ensure that social distancing can be followed at each. If one screening is full, viewers can attend the following one.

For those that cannot make the outdoor screening, the film will be available on later in October.

photo by: Erika Kjorlie Geery

Part of “The Wishing Bench” film’s production crew. Top row, from left: Kiley Chavez, Madeline Ingram, José Faus, Jeremy Osbern, Kyle Wilson and Tatianna Rodriguez. Bottom row, from left: Chris Blunk, Jillian Markway, Maxine Nwachukwu, Misti Boland and Marlo Angell.


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