"A beautiful road movie about unlikely redemption. An outstanding debut by Paddy Connor."
-Bill Stamets, Chicago Sun-Times
"Looks great! Maurice Compte and Paddy Connor have faces that leap off the screen! "
-Amy Taubin, Village Voice
"Remarkable. A shooting star. A revelation."
A hard hitting story with illuminating insight into characters and landscape. Intense performances by its excellent young leads. Superb. A moving experience."
"Outstanding. Unforgettable. Gives the American landscape an exceptional presence."
"Sensitive. Beautiful characters. A timeless road movie. A revelation from a film director."
-Tribune de Geneve
The acclaimed drama follows two runaway teens--somber father-to-be Freddy (Maurice Compte) and carefree, light-fingered Albert (Paddy Connor)--as they hitchhike across the Midwest, searching for absent parents and forging dysfunctional families along the way.
The Dream Catcher premiered in April of 1999 at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, where Radtke was awarded the prize for Best Director. It has since been warmly received at film festivals in Locarno, Switzerland; Deauville, France; Hamburg, Germany; and Chicago. This week, Radtke and his sole print of the film--burned with French subtitles--are in Paris for the highly regarded Festival of Rencontres.
Radtke described himself as lost and aloof during adolescence, much like Freddy. He had a 1.9 GPA in high school and didn't participate in sports or after-school activities. He was frequently suspended, declared truant and had numerous run-ins with the Bellbrook police. "Nothing malicious or violent," Radtke said, "just mischievous and directionless."
His recklessness culminated with an arrest for strong-arm robbery--a felony. "Without context, it sounds gruesome," Radtke admitted. Wearing stocking masks over their faces, he and some hungry friends tried to steal pizzas from a delivery driver at night. The driver told police that one of his assailants was Chinese. "The reality was we were the only Asian family in Bellbrook,," said Radtke, whose mother is Japanese. "The cops always knew where to go."
Radtke spent a few weekends in jail and was put on probation. Then he discovered that his girlfriend was pregnant. "Suddenly, I was really given a wake-up call," he said. After high school, Radtke worked for a year on a farm and started taking theater and photography classes at Sinclair College. His grades immediately shot up, thanks to the unwed father's newfound determination, and he transferred as a sophomore to Wright State University. He did well enough there to be accepted as a junior at NYU.
"I was definitely a fish out of water in New York City," Radtke said. He was intimidated by his wealthy, cultured classmates, worked third shift at UPS and ate ramen noodles on a hot plate to scrape by. But he found himself as a filmmaker. "I really liked what I was doing and other students really responded, and the few teachers that really inspired me while I was there were very encouraging." Radtke started writing The Dream Catcher in 1990 while working construction. He would scribble notes on scraps of cardboard and stuff them in his tool belt, and he pecked out the first draft of his screenplay by night on his uncle's manual typewriter. Like his characters, Radtke also did a lot hitchhiking and hopped freight trains. "Railroad tracks don't go along the highway usually," Radtke said. "You see an entirely different part of America, both landscape and socio-economically. You also run into slightly different characters than you would at a drive-through McDonald's off the interstate. "And so what I wanted to do was take my own personal story--about in some ways my own coming of age, as told through the eyes of Freddy--and I wanted to place it with the American road as the backdrop, as the stage."
Radtke collaborated on the screenplay with Marc Nieson of Minneapolis. He shot most of the film in the Miami Valley over eight weeks last fall, with 2 weeks of exterior location shooting out West. The initial financing came from an NEA Filmmaking Production Grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Much of the rest has come from private investors and maxed-out credit cards. He credits the film's completion to the support of local producers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, editor Jim Klein and the many people in the community who donated space, goods and services. Radtke's and Bognar's mothers cooked two meals a day for the 50-person cast and crew.
"Since April we've been doing festivals," Radtke said. "It's a lot of fun. They pay my way and put me up." Still, it costs money to travel. In France, a cup of coffee is $4 and you don't get a refill. "Sometimes we stay in hotels that we can't even afford a cup of coffee in."
The Dream Catcher has been embraced by European audiences. Radtke is close to signing with a foreign sales agent, who will represent the film abroad. Several major North American film distributors have viewed the film in recent weeks, but Radtke declined to discuss them on the record, for fear of raising false hopes or jinxing a potential deal. "We're trying to sell the film," Radtke said, "because we want to get it into theaters." The director would be happy with a limited art-house release in major cities, a home-video deal and sales to international markets. Following Thursday's local premiere will be a post-screening question-and-answer session with the actors and filmmakers.
Radtke's fondest dream is that people will find inspiration in the film's story, as well as in his own. "I hope that high-school students that are thinking about the possibilities in life are perhaps inspired by this particular happy ending, because I needed that kind of encouragement when I was a kid," he said. "The world is full of possibility."