PIERRE – South Dakota-made indie film “Tater Tot & Patton” hit theaters last weekend to outstanding success across the six cities as part of its state wide theatrical release.
The film, about a wayward millennial played by Jessica Rothe, who visits her uncle’s ranch in the Pierre area to turn both of their lives upside down, is intended as a love letter to the state of South Dakota.
“The story is deeply personal” said Andrew Kightlinger, the film’s director and Pierre area native. “There’s a lot of myself and people and events close to me represented by the characters, and the world they find themselves in.”
The film’s inspiration is so connected to its setting, that the film’s producer and sitting South Dakota Arts Council board member Dohui Kim knew that the film had to be made in the state, it had to be inherent to the state’s essence, have people from the state involved, and it had to be available to the South Dakotans it would resonate with.
“It was so important to us to make the film in the state of South Dakota,” said Kim. “As you watch, you get the sense that the landscape is a character in and of itself, interacting with the characters. We think that’s a personification, and a relationship that anybody who’s ever stood on the prairie and overlooked its vastness will instantly understand.”
Kightlinger agreed. “I wanted the film in part to showcase the landscape of South Dakota, and convey the isolation, hope, loneliness, and the complete mixed bag of polarizing emotions that can come along with it.”
Making sure the film accomplished its mission meant having everyone, top to bottom on board to tell its story, which also meant having strong character actors. Jessica Rothe, star of the “Happy Death Day” franchise, “Forever My Girl,”and “La La Land,” took the role of Andie, the millennial, and Bates Wilder known for films like “Joy,” took the role of Erwin, her uncle.
“Jessica was a perfect fit” continued Kightlinger. “Few actors can endear an audience to an inherently unsympathetic character but Rothe manages to make Andie immediately empathetic.”
Kightlinger praised Wilder’s performance as well calling him “100 percent the Ogre I was looking to cast. That character arc could not have been more flawlessly captured.”
The film also had an almost fully South Dakota crew, and catering that included tater tots.
Producers also include Pierre native Adam Emerson, who grew up with Kightlinger watching old samurai movies on the weekends, and Ryan M. Hall, a Rapid City native.
“Tater Tot & Patton” runs through Thursday, March 14, at Cinema 8 in Brookings.