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Filmmaker looking forward to local audience reaction

Visiting New York City at the age of 8, Rachel Morgan told her mom, Anne, "Leave me here." She was smitten with the big city. Now, the film she produced there will take center stage at the Red Bridge Film Festival Saturday. (Submitted photo)

A year ago, Park Rapids alum/film producer Rachel Morgan purchased a one-way ticket to the Big Apple with a goal of filming a dark, original comedy that follows a pair of unlikely friends.

Now she's coming home for its premiere.

"Happy Birthday Rita" is the featured film in this year's Red Bridge Film Festival, to be shown at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 18 at Park Theater.

The film introduces the audience to Alin, a lonely man who collects back issues of Reader's Digest and stocks his closet with light bulbs. He hasn't feasted on a steak dinner in a decade.

Charley is a forlorn Polish immigrant, longing for her ex-boyfriend, who's become a call girl. She avoids the daylight in her basement apartment, chain- smoking through the night.

Their seemingly incongruous relationship is based on nostalgia for the past and a desire to enjoy the present.

"I'm anxious to see the audience's reaction," Morgan said in a telephone interview from New York this week.

Since graduating from the Minnesota College of Art and Design in 2007, Morgan has worked on a number of film projects - including extras casting for the movie, "Prairie Home Companion," filmed in Minneapolis. She's served as a line producer for advertising agencies and assumed other roles in film production (including cameo appearances.)

"Last year, about this time, we decided to make a feature film, to take a risk," she said of venturing off to New York City with a crew she'd met in college, writer/director Stephen Gurewitz and photography director Adam Ginsberg.

The script, filmed last summer, is based to some extent on their experiences, she said.

For example, the lead actor is locked out of his apartment - in desperate need of a latrine. He relieves himself in a deserted parking lot and takes refuge in a Laundromat - and is soon told to leave.

Crew members gave themselves a three-month time frame, including a month and a half in pre-production and shooting the film over a period of 17 days, working 18 hours a day.

The windowless basement apartment Morgan rented on arrival served as the film's "location."

And she survived on a $5 a day diet.

But the bold endeavor is paying dividends. She's been hired as a production designer and is developing another script.

Saturday, she will listen to comments on the film. "I want subjective viewpoints," she said. "What people like or dislike about the characters. I want to know if something's missing, if someone has a question, if they don't understand what's going on."

And she wants to hear laughter.

"It's a work in progress," she said. "And this is part of the process."