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"Superior:" a coming-of-age tale set in Northern Michigan

Nov 4, 2015

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The new indie film Superior is set in the summer of 1969, as two lifelong friends grab their bicycles and set out on a 1,300-mile journey around Lake Superior.

The boys, Derek and Charlie, are facing the leap from boyhood into the adult world, which includes the Vietnam War.

Benda tells us the coming-of-age story is deeply rooted in his family’s stories. He says his uncle Karl told him a story a few years ago over a Thanksgiving dinner about he and his cousin Dan in 1971.

“He and his cousin … kind of looked at each other one morning and said, 'well, what do you want to do today?' 'Well, I don’t know, what do you want to do today?' And so they decided to go on a 1,300-mile bike ride,” he says.

“They just woke up and went on such an odyssey. And really with no planning, just shirts on their back, change in their pocket.”

He tells us that story became the backbone for Superior, but the film also weaves other stories he’d heard as a child into the tale.

Benda describes the two main characters, Charlie and Derek, as itinerant and happy-go-lucky respectively.

Charlie is headed to Michigan Tech to start engineering school, and Derek appears to be heading for the Army, and from there to Vietnam.

Charlie and Derek are played by Paul Stanko and Thatcher Robinson, both from the University of Southern California’s Theatre program, but Benda tells us everyone else in the film is played by locals from the Upper Peninsula.

Benda also notes that the bicycles used in the film are the actual bikes Karl and Dan rode in 1971.

He says in researching the film, he asked his uncle what kind of bikes they used, and Karl described “this very specific kind of Schwinn.”

“I’m thinking to myself, where on earth am I going to find bikes like that? And my uncle Karl, being a true yooper, says, ‘oh, well I have it in my garage,’” he says.

He mentions that they’ve also taken the bikes on tour with the film, parking them outside the theaters so people get to “see these big hunks of metal that somehow made that journey.”

Benda moved to California to study film at USC, but he’s a Michigan native and tells us he loves his home state.

“We’ve been on this tour around the Michigan with the film for the last month now, and my colleagues kind of gave me flak, they said I only put this tour together as an excuse to spend fall in Michigan,” he says, “which I suppose is partially true.”

Benda says that Los Angeles while “certainly has its own appeal,” living there has highlighted for him the fact that Michigan is “a beautiful state beyond compare.”

Benda is currently touring the film around Michigan. He’ll be in Holland, Lansing, Bloomfield, Negaunee and Saginaw between now and November 11.

Screening dates and more information about the film can be found by going to superiorthemovie.com.

Listen to our conversation above to hear Edd Benda tell us more about the film and his experience bringing it to Michigan audiences.

- Ryan Grimes, Stateside