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Wadsworth director’s ‘Star Wars’ homage chosen for Toronto screening

Film director Patrick Read Johns(right) 50 Iowposes for phowith Morgan Flores 30 Iowalong side 1975 Ford Pinwith Stormtroopers outside Genesee

Film director Patrick Read Johnson (right), 50, of Iowa, poses for a photo with Morgan Flores, 30, of Iowa along side a 1975 Ford Pinto with Stormtroopers outside the Genesee Theater. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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It takes about eight hours to cover the 560 miles between northeastern Illinois and central Ontario, and it looks like the effort to get “5-25-77” from the film set to the big screen will come in at about eight years.

Wadsworth filmmaker Patrick Read Johnson’s semi-autobiographical homage to the “Star Wars” generation, shot in various corners of Lake County primarily between 2004 and 2006, has been placed on the schedule for the Toronto International Film Festival’s Next Wave series, a first-time event slated for Feb. 15-17.

“It’s an exciting opportunity, and it’s an honor,” Johnson said. “It’ll be really fun to see this in a true festival setting.”

Johnson said the Toronto connection was set up by his bid last summer to seek a Hollywood distributor for a film that he still describes as a work in progress.

“We did something like seven or eight cuts as we traveled around the country” screening versions in places like Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and Austin, Texas, Johnson said, adding that a screening “right about the time we hit Los Angeles” led to the film be placed in Toronto’s Next Wave Film Festival.

“It was actually chosen by a panel of teen judges,” Johnson said. “I always assumed that this would be a movie for people my age and that it might trickle down to youth audiences, but we found it really played to teens.”

While the main Toronto festival — which has hosted the North American premieres of such notables as “Chariots of Fire” and “Silver Linings Playbook” — is on the 2013 schedule for Sept. 5-15, the New Wave series will feature a mix of new and old films, including a tribute to filmmaker John Hughes (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Breakfast Club”).

“The Next Wave Film Festival is the new annual festival exclusively for youth aged 14 to 18,” reads a statement announcing the program. “This exciting event includes 20 films made for youth — and in some cases by youth — along with an array of activities in which students are exposed to the world of cinema and to life behind the lens.”

The screening for “5-25-77” is on the menu for Feb. 16 at 3:15 p.m. Information posted about the film at, including a three-minute trailer, states that it is rated PG and comes in at 113 minutes, with the cast featuring John Francis Daley, Austin Pendleton, Colleen Camp and Waukegan High School graduate Neil Flynn (“Scrubs,” “The Middle”).

Johnson said the version shown next month will still feature rough edges, including scenes in standard definition rather than high-definition and special effects that have yet to be completed. He added that while some contemporary pop songs will be heard, negotiating rights for a full soundtrack will be the eventual domain of a distributor, which he hopes will be easier to attract following the Toronto exposure.

Primary filming of “5-25-77” — the date that “Star Wars” premiered across the country — took place in the spring of 2004 at locations that included Six Flags Great America’s County Fair game pavilion (where Johnson worked during his teen years) and Waukegan High School’s Brookside Campus (standing in for his alma mater, Warren Township High School). Scenes also were filmed in 2006 inside Waukegan’s Genesee Theatre, site of the narrative’s final act.

One key goal, said Johnson, still involves bringing a finished product to the Genesee, possibly this spring or summer.

For those who can’t make the trip to Toronto, he directed fans to, a documentary about last summer’s journey — or as he put it, “about the triumph and the tragedy of making a film out of chewing gum, baling wire and love.”

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