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'Under These Same Stars'

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'Under These Same Stars'
STEVE JAHNKE / THE SOUTHERN Hilary Chandler of Carbondale (playing the part of Marianne) grimaces after smelling a stick that was baited by Ryan Smith of Smithton (playing the part of Celadon) as director Dan Johnson films them Friday near his home in Alto Pass. The trio are working on a feature-length film adaptation of "Stealing Indian Women", a historical narrative by Carl Ekberg.

ALTO PASS - Céladon crouched to the ground, situated about three feet from the Mississippi River, as he set a trap to catch animals running toward the river.

A woman squatted across from him, watching as he set the device. Marianne had been learning the ways of the wilderness after spending time living with Céladon in the woods, dodging search parties.

As Céladon edged a stick into the trap, it clasped shut and Marianne let loose a loud shriek. Céladon glanced up at her, turned, looked at the camera staring down at him and said, "Should I be mad at her?"

The situation wasn't exactly as it seemed. A small pond on an Alto Pass property represented the Mississippi River, Brian Smith of Smithton portrayed Céladon and Karen Fiorino of Makanda filled in for Marianne.

While filming of "Under These Same Stars" transformed modern-day Alto Pass into the French-controlled territory of St. Genevieve in the late 18th Century, not everything about the scenario was fiction. Céladon and Marianne truly ran off together into the woods following an odd string of events, which the screenwriter interprets as a sign of true love.

A true love story

The mixed-blood hunter Céladon had long tried to court Marianne into running away with him, but she refused because of her two young children and her well-treated life as a slave to the widow Elizabeth Aubuchon.

Trouble began when Spanish officer Juan Oliver invited Céladon and a local barkeep to join him at a party on the eastern side of the Mississippi in the British-controlled Kaskaskia. Céladon, in turn, invited his love interest to join them.

While the four enjoyed flowing beverages and enjoyment of the party, Céladon also used the opportunity to acquaint himself with a female Indian slave named Lissette Morgan. The following morning, the group returned home, went their own ways and Céladon left on his latest hunt.

Later that week, word made it from Kaskaskia to St. Genevieve an Indian slave ? the same woman Céladon had courted ? had gone missing. Search parties were sent out to find the hunter and the missing slave, and a tracker found the latter's body poorly buried on along a creekline, with a bullet wound from her clavicle to her rib cage.

Céladon instantly became a leading suspect, and officials became leery of Marianne, Oliver and the barkeep, thinking the four may have formulated a plan at the Kaskaskia party. Oliver was jailed, while Marianne was chained and placed on house arrest.

Six weeks later, a knock on Marianne's window startles her. Céladon had returned, and he asked her one last time if she wished to run away with him. This time, after spending six weeks in chains, she agreed, kissed her children goodbye and promised to return for them.

Reading accounts from Marianne's children about what their mother's rescuer said convinced "Same Stars" screenwriter Bob Streit of Carbondale the two were truly in love.

"Who comes to a woman's window and says, 'I've got two horses and a copper pot'? Either a poet or an idiot," Streit said. "Why would you go back into a town where you're a wanted man? You're either cocky as all hell or you're in love."

The rest of the story

While those searching history may find several of the "Same Stars" characters with different names, Streit said the decision to change some was based on the fact several of the historical figures shared names, which may have confused viewers.

Despite name changes, the stories remain the same as those drawn for testimony given to Spanish and British authorities in the 18th Century.

Carl Ekberg, the uncle of the film's director Dan Johnson of Alto Pass and brother of producer Anne Johnson of St. Louis, spent years researching the history in St. Genevieve, New Orleans and Seville, Spain.

"It's a vision that my uncle had," Dan Johnson said of the film. "It's this story he'd been thinking about for 20 years, and we're just trying to bring that to life."

"Same Stars" draws its title from the fact that despite the 230 years that have passed since Céladon and Marianne walked the plains, it's still a story that happened in Southern Illinois and Missouri ? underneath the same stars in the sky above.

When complete, the film will detail the above stories of the couple's adventure, as well as further explore the past and the future. By the end of the film, viewers will also have an answer to the question of what really happened to Lissette Morgan.

Behind the scenes

Production work for "Same Stars" began March 1, with volunteer cast and crew coming together just about every weekend to work on the project, Dan Johnson said.

The film will feature a total operating budget of less than $30,000, and the crew producing it doesn't quite know what lies in its future. They hope for a premiere in St. Genevieve and possible entry into film festivals on both a national and international level.

Avoiding modern sites and sounds and maintaining an 18th Century look and sound has been one of the challenging aspects for the crew, while memorizing lines has been a challenge for Smith, who described the process as "a lot more work than I would have expected." Portraying Céladon, however, has had its fun parts.

"He's got a little bit of a dark sense of humor," Smith said. "He also likes his quiet time, enjoys a good drink and has a thing for ladies."

Filming of "Same Stars" will end in the next few weeks, and the completed project is slated to be finished by year's end.

adam.testa@thesouthern.com

351-5031

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