The Road To Galena follows the life of Cole Baird (Ben Winchell), his best friend Jack Miller (Will Brittain) and Cole’s high school sweetheart Elle Shepard (Aimee Teegarden) from the time they are graduating high school until well into their thirties. Cole dreams of one day becoming a farmer, but his plans change when he gets a scholarship into a prestigious law school. While Cole is following a new path Elle and Jack grow closer eventually starting a family while running a farm in their small home town. As time passes Cole continues to question his life choices and when tragedy strikes Cole must decide what path he wants to follow.
The Illuminerdi had the opportunity to speak with Joe Hall, writer and director of The Road To Galena, as well as stars Ben Winchell, Will Brittain, and Aimee Teegarden. During our interview Ben Winchell talks about the lack of villain in The Road To Galena while Joe Hall reveals why he incorporated the looming threat of Big Farming and how a classic Christmas movie had an unexpected influence on his new movie.
JOE HALL REVEALS THE UNEXPECTED INFLUENCE OF IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE ON THE ROAD TO GALENA
“Well, I thought that it was important that this be this linear story that you could follow these characters over their lives. Because my hope is that the audience is going to see some element of themselves in their own lives in all of these characters. And well, my favorite picture, as Ben knows, is It’s a Wonderful Life. And I think you can’t appreciate what’s going on in George Bailey’s mind on that bridge, unless you’d lived that journey with him. You needed to go through that to get that moment.
And I felt like for these characters, we needed to collectively live this journey together so that you have a sense in these pivotal sort of climactic moments at the end of the film, what led to that. And so, it was a challenge to shoot a 20 year timeframe, but I think that everyone, Will and Aimee and Ben, sort of delivered beautifully that evolution, in terms of their characters and that arc over that period. And Gina Bateman, our makeup designer, and Clark Vandergrift, our DP, everyone involved in helping to create that journey, that 20 year journey just did just an extraordinary job.”
Like It’s A Wonderful Life, The Road To Galena is a character driven drama that digs into the life of the lead character. It’s A Wonderful Life takes a bit more of a fantastical approach, but the DNA of this movie can be seen within The Road To Galena. Especially when Cole is forced to reexamine his life and what he not only wants, but appreciates. Both of these movies are very human stories that leave the characters changed by the end.
Although Cole’s trajectory in life is influenced by his father’s wants, as well as his family’s finances, Cole is still the one making the choices that lead him to where he is in life. The relationship between father and son is difficult filled with resentment and pain, but interestingly The Road To Galena never paints Cole’s father in a villainous light. Instead he is someone who has quite a bit in common with Cole and wanted a better life for his son. Ben Winchell broke down this relationship and commended Joe Hall on creating a film without a villain.
“But I love what Joe said in a previous interview that there are no villains. And I never looked at Jay. Nobody ever looked at Jay or anybody as a villain, because I think what Cole’s dad is trying to do is what he thinks is right for Cole. So I think it’s just that classic son trying to please his father and he can’t. It ends up not even being able to please himself in the process, because he’s so far gone at this point. And that’s what’s beautiful about it is once he finally makes his way back.”
Although many of Cole’s relationships had an underlying tension the resentment and anger that boiled over when he confronted his father was palpable. But what made their confrontation so compelling was that by showing Cole’s life and choices it is clear that while his father may have steered him in a certain direction it was Cole who took the steps to becoming the man he was.
The only somewhat villainous entity within the film is the looming threat of Big Farming over the small rural town. With independent family farms running into financial troubles and a major corporation waiting in the wings it brings up an interesting real life conundrum. During our interview director Joe Hall explained why he wanted to incorporate this into The Road To Galena.
“Well, I thought it was important to have sort of an overarching statement of what’s going on in the world of family farms to provide some further context there, because it is real. We were talking earlier about Brian Williams and his family who own Red Acres Farm, where we shot all of the scenes for Jack’s farm. And the conversations I had with Brian about what it means to have a multi-generation family farm and the reality of the difficulty in continuing that tradition and passing that down onto subsequent generations and the impact of big farming coming in, it does change the whole culture of a community.
And so, I thought it was important to have that quiet backstory going on, that things are changing. The community is changing. And in the end, giving Cole sort of a dual purpose, part of it is to fulfill his life’s dream. And part of it is to fight for that community, to fight for his hometown, fight for the spirit of the family farm.”
With The Road To Galena focusing on a small farming community incorporating the reality of Big Farming not only adds dramatic tension, but lends itself to the authenticity as well. The Road To Galena is a character driven story exploring a twenty year time span for these characters. Over that time it is interesting to see how much they change and evolve while in many ways staying very similar at their core. The unexpected influence of It’s A Wonderful Life on The Road To Galena brings out the most compelling moments especially when Cole looks at what his life has become versus what he wanted it to be.
The Road To Galena comes out July 8, 2022. Are you going to see The Road To Galena? Are you a fan of It’s A Wonderful Life? What do you think about films that don’t feature villains as a part of the story? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on our social media and check back with The Illuminerdi for more.