The Neon will show ‘Wildcat,’ Ethan Hawke’s latest film produced by Dayton native Karri O’Reilly

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Neon in downtown Dayton will screen Ethan Hawke’s buzzworthy independent film “Wildcat,” based on the life and short stories of Flannery O’Connor and produced by Dayton native Karri O’Reilly, beginning Memorial Day weekend.

Shot on location in Louisville in January and February 2023, “Wildcat,” starring Hawke’s daughter, Maya, examines the literary icon as she was struggling to write her first novel. A devout Catholic, her works include “Wise Blood,” “A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories,” “The Violent Bear It Away” and the posthumously compiled “Complete Stories,” which won the 1972 National Book Award for Fiction. She died of lupus at age 39.

“Flannery O’Connor is one of those authors who people have either never heard of or are cultishly devoted to,” said O’Reilly, 54. “Her Catholic faith was an element in a lot of her writing, but she also wrote a lot of Southern Gothic, blunt stories, a lot of which dealt with racism in a way that was not sugarcoated for the time. Her writing is so beautiful and human but it does depict some of the darker sides of people. Generally there are elements of redemption in her writing. A lot of women find her writing when they are in high school or college, which adds to the cultish devotion.”

O’Reilly, who lived in Los Angeles for 15 years and has been Dayton-based since 2005, is a Wright State University motion pictures graduate. Her extensive credits include producing independent films such as “Donnybrook” and “The Big Ugly” as well as Hallmark Hall of Fame’s “A Christmas Love Story.” In addition to working with Mariah Carey on her Hallmark special “A Christmas Melody,” she was production manager for Todd Haynes’ Academy Award-nominated “Carol” and production supervised Ron Howard’s Academy Award-nominated “Hillbilly Elegy.”

She enjoys working on projects that incorporate regional actors and crew, particularly her fellow Wright State alums. She also continues to be impressed with the versatility of Cincinnati-based character actress Christine Dye, who is best known for appearing in Miami Valley Gaming commercials and can be currently seen as the no-nonsense motel front desk clerk in “Challengers.”

“We knew we could pull really fantastic crew from the region, including Cincinnati,” O’Reilly said. “We knew we had the talent base in the area both in front of and behind the camera. There are a lot of really fantastic Kentucky and Ohio actors that are in ‘Wildcat’ and in large parts. Christine Dye’s audition tape for ‘Wildcat’ was stunningly good — she’s a real talent.”

Credit: SOOZIE EASTMAN

Credit: SOOZIE EASTMAN

In addition to Dye who portrays Duchess, the cast of “Wildcat” includes Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Steve Zahn, and Vincent D’Onofrio. O’Reilly said the complicated questions rising from O’Connor’s work fuels the film’s allure.

“This isn’t just a biopic of somebody in the ‘50s,” she said. “It raises a lot of complicated questions. The film deals a lot with elements like grace and how can you be true to your artistic endeavors and still be a functioning member of society or reconcile that with your faith. It’s also timely because a lot of things she was interested in as a writer, thematically, are issues we still struggle with as an American society.”

O’Reilly is also pleased to have “Wildcat” screen at The Neon, which offers an intimate moviegoing experience with an independent frame of mind.

“A theater like The Neon is very special and rare,” she said. “One of the reasons The Neon has been able to stick around for as long as it has is because they’ve built trust with their audience. The Neon is going to find and program the best of the best films. With how the whole industry is changing, fighting for movie screen space in a flooded field where everybody wants to just rush to streaming, it’s tough. It’s important for the audience to have a place where they can experience films the way they were intended to be seen. Films are meant to be collective experiences, and having a space like The Neon, which brings not just superhero movies but films that are challenging, thoughtful and elevate the genre, is really important. Dayton is lucky to have The Neon here.”

Credit: Oscilloscope

Credit: Oscilloscope

“Wildcat” premiered at the 2023 Telluride Film Festival and was also seen at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. O’Reilly, associated with prestige films over the years, feels confident in its ability to go to the next level, perhaps into awards season.

“This project turned out amazingly well,” she said. “It reminded me of ‘Carol,’ in which every day felt like it had a chance to succeed in an elevated way. You know you can usually provide craft but you aspire to art, and I think ‘Wildcat,’ like ‘Carol,’ really crosses the threshold as something special.”


HOW TO GO

What: “Wildcat”

Where: The Neon, 130 E. Fifth St., Dayton

When: May 24-26; 12:10 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m., 7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sun.

Cost: $8.50-$10.50

More info: neonmovies.com

FYI: Dye and Reilly are slated to participate in a Q&A following the 7:30 p.m. screening on Saturday. Dye is slated to appear in-person and Reilly via Zoom.

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