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USOEC on film?

‘American Anthem’ could bring attention to speedskating program

January 30, 2011
By RENEE PRUSI, Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - A movie about speedskaters could be filmed in Marquette someday soon.

"American Anthem," written by John Carr, is currently in the test film stages.

"For our test film, the story is about a brash speed skater who's challenged by returning to competition if he trains a high-functioning autistic struggling to get into a speed skating program at the United States Olympic Education Center," Carr said via e-mail.

Article Photos

John Carr hopes to bring the United States Olympic Education Center into the mainstream consciousness as the setting for a speedskating movie called “American Anthem.” (Photo courtesy of John Carr)

The USOEC is located at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.

The test film is currently being made in Portland, Ore., under the direction of Mark Vetanen.

"Amazon Studios and Warner Brothers have a concept similar to Project Greenlight," Carr said, referring to an HBO program from several years ago. "This gives unknown filmmakers and writers to collaborate and create a 'test film' for them to review.

"A 'test film' is a full video of the story, so you can see the characters, its mood, sights and sounds," Carr said. "It's not the type of film you'd release in a theater, but with this, Amazon Studios and Warner Brothers will review, along with other test film projects, to determine which would get the skills based award and a chance to get Warner Brothers to consider investing to make it a full production."

The test film should be complete by February and viewable by April on Amazon Studios site, as these are the studios' requirements, Carr said.

USOEC Director Jeff Kleinschmidt called the potential feature film "an exciting idea."

"I have been aware of the project about a year and a half ago or so," Kleinschmidt said. "I talked with the writer when he was here. I would hope someday it might happen. I know there are some USOEC athletes consulting (with the film) and I would be happy to see it happen."

For San Antonio native Carr, speedskating might seem a surprising interest. But he combined that sport with a topic that has special meaning for him.

"At first, I wrote 'American Anthem' because I wanted to create a hero's journey for teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I have two children with ASD and I wrote it for them; to show they can compete against the best, too," Carr said.

"This is a universal theme for any young person with physical or mental challenges. Young people, especially teens, are so impressionable, and they need all the encouragement they can get.

"From my research, nobody released a motion picture in the theaters about short track speedskaters. I couldn't find a single film here or overseas on the subject," he said. "This surprised me because the cinematography for such a film would be breathtaking. I asked myself 'why hasn't anyone done this?'"

Carr, who now lives in the Minneapolis area, was looking for location in which create the film.

"My challenge was to find a place to tell this story. I wanted this story to be about an ASD high school teen trying to be a speedskater, but where can it take place? When I read through the U.S. Speedskating profiles for national team skaters, I ran across Katherine Reutter's profile. It said she came from the United States Olympic Education Center.

"I researched further and learned about the USOEC and all their programs. I knew this was the place to tell my story."

Carr corresponded with Tricia Stennes, the USOEC short track head coach, then made some trips to Marquette to see what the USOEC was all about. He also spoke with as many people involved with short track speedskating as he could find.

"Through interviews, I heard a common theme: Our membership continues to dwindle, and speedskating may not survive another decade in America. Jeff Kleinschmidt and others told me about the financial struggles the USOEC continues to face," Carr said. "The challenge is most people never heard about the place. I asked my friends, neighbors, or even strangers if they heard of the USOEC. None of them have.

"When I told them about the programs, and it was based on the campus of Northern Michigan University, and it was in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, they were fascinated," Carr said. "The first thing out of their mouth was either 'someone should make a movie about the place' or 'someone should make a TV show about the place.'"

Carr said it now goes beyond that.

"I began to care about the sport and the USOEC, too. So my hope is 'American Anthem,' as a major motion picture, would bring a new generation of talent to the sport, put the USOEC on the map, and give autistics the fictional hero they never had."

Synergy with other things U.P. has become a part of the project.

"I read (Negaunee native) Ron Riekki's book "U.P.' and really loved it. I'm not from the U.P., but I do understand the desperation Ron describes to be a youth trapped in a community America has forgotten. I told Steven Wiig (another Negaunee native who's working to get 'U.P.' made into a film) before that it would be great if 'American Anthem' and 'U.P.' could be released a few months apart. It shows two perspectives of life in the U.P.: 'American Anthem' is a story of hope for youth trying to break into the U.P., and 'U.P.' is a story of despair about youth trying to break out of the U.P."

Wiig's band The Martichora also is contributing to the test film's soundtrack.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is



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