BELLEVILLE — Actors on-screen came together to help a farmer heal from his wife's death just as real people off-screen came together to film, "Belleville."
The 90-minute independent film premiered at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Lincoln Theatre in downtown Belleville.
"They loved it. They are so proud of it and me," said executive producer and lead actor Ted Trent. "It makes me feel great knowing that it meant so much to so many people. That's why we are going to do it again, and again, and again."
The movie is based in a farm outside of Belleville. It begins with Trent's character, Neila (alien spelled backwards) crawling out of a pond and into the life of recluse farmer Willie (Tim O'Leary), who is grieving the loss of his wife. The town comes together under the direction of Neila to help Willie overcome his loss.
"... We need to celebrate with the breath in our bodies while we have it," the stranger, Neila, proclaims in the film.
Neila learns to read, bike, play the banjo, make s'mores -- and he shares his newfound joys in life with Willie. Neila also learns not to shake a beer before he opens the can and not to drink from the Belleville fountain.
Karen Keuss, of Swansea, attended the premiere.
"I really enjoyed it," Keuss said. "It was great to see a movie without violence, a movie you can bring your family to. It had a really great message, too."
Jeramy Radliff, 32, said the movie "shows how small towns like Belleville can be."
Radliff, of Belleville, and Kenzie Simmons, 12, were extras in the movie.
Simmons got a photo autographed by lead actress, Cooper Shaw.
"Keep following your heart," Shaw wrote. The St. Louis-based actress won best supporting actress at the American Movie Awards for her performance in "Belleville."
Simmons, a student at Belle Valley Elementary School, recently landed a role in her school play. She plans on keeping in touch with Shaw.
After the premiere, Radliff and Simmons both said they thought Neila was "hilarious."
Radliff said he loved the movie. His favorite scene was when the farmer, Willie, played by Tim O'Leary, realizes that he's not alone.
"It was great to see places I know of, been to, see every day," Radliff said.
Simmons and Radliff were among about 200 people gathered at dusk Tuesday to watch actors and actresses arriving at the Lincoln Theatre in classic cars.
Vicki Stasko wanted to go to the movie for her birthday. She and her husband, Mike, watched the movie and looked for familiar faces and places.
"It was really neat seeing people from the community in it," Vicki Stasko said.
"It was different," Mike Stasko said. "It wasn't exactly an action movie. It was kind of hard to get into at first and a little hard to follow, but it was interesting."
Gwyn and Jacque Morris, of North Wales in the United Kingdom, were in town to visit a friend but stopped on Main Street, drawn by the bright lights. They didn't get it to see the show, but loved watching the red carpet procession.
"Well, we wanted to know what was going on," Gwyn Morris said. "We were here on holiday and stopped into town to see a friend, but he wasn't home and we saw this."
Rose Marie Fitzgerald, of Millstadt, spoke from the red carpet about being an actress in the movie.
"It was definitely on my bucket list," she said.
Chris Talley, who owns The Bluegrass Shack in New Athens, was also featured in the movie, teaching Trent how to play the banjo. Part of the movie was shot at Talley's store.
"We really didn't think that it was going to happen," Talley said. "And then it did. It was really fun."
Trent, a Belleville native and executive producer of the film, now lives in Los Angeles but decided to film the movie in his hometown at locations such as Eckert's Orchards, the Skyview Drive-In and Blanquart Jewelers.
Bob Ripley, who was born in Belleville, and Carol Ripley, who has lived in the city for 54 years, said they attended the premiere to see the Smithton farm of family friends, the Lindauers.
"We've never had a movie premiere like this here before," Carol Ripley said.
Cathleen Lindauer, tourism director at the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce, appears in the film.
The 7:30 p.m. showing was sold out so organizers added a 10 p.m. showing Tuesday night.
The premiere will be followed by 23 showings in the next five days and more through May 8. There will also be showings in St. Louis and Carbondale.
Tickets at the Lincoln Theatre will be $10 for Wednesday through April 27 and can be purchased at LincolnTheatre-Belleville.com or BellevilleTheMovie.com. The trailer is also available at the movie website.
Trent plans to use profits from "Belleville" to produce another movie in and around Belleville called "Expect Delays."
The Christmas themed movie by Ted Trend Studios and Circa 87 will be filmed in the next few weeks. Auditions take place between 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. this Friday and Saturday at the Lincoln Theatre.
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said the filming of "Belleville" has generated a good atmosphere in the city and he is excited there will be a second movie.
"It's good for the city," Eckert said. "Gets the name out there."