Birmingham-native filmmaker Edd Benda returned to his home state last year to put together the Upper Peninsula adventure film “Superior.”
The idea for the film came to Benda, 25, at a family Thanksgiving dinner table a few years ago. His uncle, Karl Benda, shared the story of a bicycle trip he took Up North more than 40 years ago with friend Dan “Dudza” Junttila, before they were deployed to Vietnam.
The tale inspired Benda to share the beauty of Lake Superior and uncertainty of young adulthood through “Superior,” his first feature-film as a writer and director.
“‘Superior’ is a snapshot of America in 1969, when futures were uncertain, and yet the most outlandish adventures remained possible,” Benda says.
“I was so fascinated by the time, place and adventure itself (of his uncle’s story) that I started writing this movie. Superior is not just based on their story — it’s more of a patchwork quilt mash-up of stories I’d listened to over the years. My dad is from family of nine kids who went on lots of adventures, and he was always sharing stories with me also.”
After graduating from The International Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Benda moved to Los Angeles. Studying filmmaking at the University of Southern California, he stayed on the West Coast after college, making short films through his independent film company “Beyond the Porch Productions.”
Benda shared his idea to base a film on his uncle’s story, and his team was interested in the project. Benda’s dream to create “Superior” became reality in summer 2014. He thoroughly researched the time period, considering his uncle’s story as well as life in the 1960s and early ’70s — especially for young men facing the draft — and the story line came together.
For 21 days, they filmed in the Keeweenaw Peninsula, the northernmost point in the Upper Peninsula.
The film crew, who were mainly from Los Angeles and had never been to the Midwest, also got into character, camping and living the Northern Michigan lifestyle the movie centers on.
“We not only spent time making this movie about an adventure, but were living it on our own,” Benda says. “It was a big part of the creative process.”
“Superior” stars Paul Stanko and Thatcher Robinson, as well a cast of what Benda described as “true-blue Yoopers,” noting he wanted to truly bring out the Michigan character.
“The movie takes place in Northern Michigan, and showcases one of the most beautiful parts of the state that I get to call home,” Benda says. “You couldn’t make this movie anywhere else — it had to be made in Great Lakes state.”
In addition to filming on location true to his uncle’s story, Benda wanted to make everything true to the times. Finding old vehicles and props was sometimes a challenge, but the bicycles ridden in the movie were those used by his uncle and friend back in the day.
While the film is only roughly based on his story, Uncle Karl has enjoyed being a local celebrity, Benda says. And “Superior” has been praised by people in the UP as well as nationally.
Following screenings in nine Michigan cities and locations around the country, the final showing of “Superior” is on Monday, Nov. 9, at the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township. Benda says he’s excited to bring his work back home.
“To round it off in my hometown is what I’m most excited about,” Benda says. “This film is very much a labor of love of mine, and it showcases the state I love so much and the kind of world that created me. I went to school in Birmingham, and had a lot of friends and support in local community — it’s part of who I am.”