MARQUETTE - In a little more than a week, Dustin Katona and Jeffrey Geniesse will be releasing a full-length feature film called "Encounter" with many Upper Peninsula ties.
The independent filmmakers describe the work as something different from other films.
"I have started to call it a mosaic," said Katona, 29. "It's a documentary. It's fiction. There are multiple pieces that are visually engaging. In a mosaic, you see the beauty of the work, but then you see the individual pieces of stone or rock or glass are beautiful in themselves."
These are stills from the film “Encounter,” which is a combination of documentary footage filmed at World Youth Day in Spain last August and fictional scenes filmed with local actors. (Mqt Cinema Coalition photo)
Geniesee, 34, a Colorado native who has worked in Hollywood and in local television production, said the film is "really unique."
"You have the narrative story of the documentary mingling with the fictional characters," he said. "But they relate together. A question posed by a fictional character can be answered by someone in the documentary. It's an interesting piece that way."
"Encounter" began filming when Katona and Geniesse accompanied a group of 55 people from the U.P. to Madrid, Spain, for World Youth Day in August of 2011. World Youth Day is sponsored by the Catholic Church but invites all youth, including non-Catholics.
"Encounters" will premiere at 1:30 p.m.?Sunday, June 24 at the Royal Cinema in Marquette.
"We went along to document the whole trip," Katona said. "But we came back and decided to turn it into a full-length feature film with eight fictional stories to enhance the feature. It's about life being a pilgrimage."
The filmmakers' own paths to making "Encounter" were different.
Geniesse grew up in Colorado, but his father had U.P. roots. Geniesse decided to enroll at Northern Michigan University and attended from 1999-2001, studying film. He left to work in Hollywood - including a stint with "The Dr. Phil Show" and some time as a talent agent - then in 2009 returned to NMU to finish his degree, which he did in April 2010.
"I worked in TV commercial production but since Dustin and I were given a budget, I have been working on the feature with a little TV production on the side."
Katona, who grew up in Negaunee, earned a bachelor's degree in religious studies from St. Norbert College in 2005, then went to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., to earn a master's degree in catholic studies with emphasis in the cinematic arts. He returned to this area in the summer of 2009, becoming a youth minister at St. Peter's Cathedral in Marquette.
'I have always been open to making film as a way to engage youth," he said. "Jeff and I met through church and discussed working together in film."
Several small projects followed.
"Jeff encouraged me to write," Katona said. "Then he had me act in some commercials he made. We did some projects for fun."
Then the pair was asked to do the documentary on World Youth Day.
"People who attended World Youth Day were from Catholic churches throughout the U.P.," Katona said. "World Youth Day brought together people from all countries, not necessarily Catholics. But the Pope was there."
Geniesse said the U.P. contingent ranged in age from late teens to mid-30s, with four priests, the bishop and some parents taking part as well. There were more than 20 attendees from the Marquette area, he said.
"It's the funniest thing to try to put into words what the experience was like," Geniesse said. "There were almost a million people there. It was overwhelming. You rub elbows with people who are like us but who come from different cultures. You didn't feel like you were strangers. You feel like you knew one another."
After returning to the U.P., Geniesse put together an edit of the footage to show to the main financiers of the project.
"They were floored by what Jeff put together," Katona said. "After that, we received great support from the Legacy of Faith Endowment."
The further financial support allowed the two to add the fictionalized portion of "Encounter" using some 30 U.P. residents as actors. Filming started in February and Geniesse is still working on the final edit.
Katona said the premiere is planned for 1:30 p.m. Sunday, June 24 at the Royal Cinema in Marquette.
"Being perfectionists, there's more we'd like to capture," he said. "We want to make it even more visually stunning."
As the premiere approaches, the filmmakers are excited and thankful.
"If it weren't for Bishop Alexander Sample we wouldn't be here doing this," Katona said. "He's our executive producer and he's allowed us artistic freedom while finding people willing to support us.
"And we are grateful for the great local talent. If it wasn't for them, we would have to travel to finish the film."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.