Escape Route Flix, LLC
presents a feature-length documentary on DVD by MARTIN SCHLIESSMANN and JOHN BRUNE
originally published by The South Bend Tribune, April 8, 2005
Roarin' Road Trip
Film Explores History and Wonder of Annual Rally
By CHRISTIAN ZAVISCA -- South Bend Tribune Staff Writer
Located at a natural entrance to the scenic Black Hills of South Dakota, Sturgis is in many ways a typical, quiet small town of 7,000 residents. Typical except for, you know, the 500,000 or so bikers who descend on it each year for the world's biggest motorcycle rally.
Just as Sturgis the small town offers more than meets the eye, so does the rally.
That's what filmmakers Martin Schliessmann and John Brune found over the course of making "Why Sturgis?" Their documentary will premiere at Indiana University South Bend's 4th Annual Independent Video and Filmmakers Festival on Saturday.
"Why Sturgis?" has been in the making since 2001. It's roughly one-third history, one-third economy and tourism profile, and one-third rally documentary, but at its heart is that unique, rumbling and roaring gathering, which, as Schliessmann puts it, is "a continuous living being by itself."
The rally is on display in the film: scenes of bikers rumbling in formation at a crawling pace down the Sturgis streets form a background and soundtrack. Bikers gather for the camaraderie, renewing friendships, checking out vendors and exploring the rolling landscape and pine-topped mountains of the Black Hills.
But while the annual rally is the film's entry point and central feature, the filmmakers quickly veer off in another direction.
"It's the history of the town that hasn't been played up," Schliessmann says.
"Why Sturgis?" takes the time to explore that history. The town's namesake, Col. Samuel Davis Sturgis, had a more famous lieutenant colonel -- George Armstrong Custer (as Schliessmann puts it, "Who knows about Custer's boss?"). Sturgis was away on recruiting duty during Custer's famous disaster at Little Big Horn, but Sturgis' son was killed in the battle, and the colonel blamed Custer's rash actions for that loss.
Sturgis commanded Fort Meade and invested in the nearby town that was given his name.
The film, by Schliessmann and Brune's production company Escape Route Flix, explores that founding and Samuel Sturgis' life story, which contained more than its share of battles (the career soldier battled Indians and fought in the Civil War), both highs and lows. There are other historical highlights for the town of Sturgis, including a connection with "The Star-Spangled Banner." "Why Sturgis?" intersperses that history with the history and modern-day story of the motorcycle rally.
Schliessmann, a Mishawaka resident who originally is from Indianapolis, got the idea for the film from his family, which hails from South Dakota. He had heard of the rally but didn't know many of the details. What the filmmakers found was a tradition dating back to 1938, when Pearl Hoel and her husband started the rally. Hoel tells the story to open the film. The Black Hills bring in tourists from far and wide, and not only for the rally: The sparsely populated state of South Dakota depends economically on those visitors to Mount Rushmore and other attractions, another theme explored by the filmmakers.
The documentary returns throughout to the bikers: Motorcyclist Mac Trench, a plumber from South Bend at the time of the film, who now lives in Niles, says early in the film that he was so excited to be heading to the rally that he couldn't sleep or get any work done. For most people, traveling means getting from point A to point B with as little fuss as possible. For motorcycle enthusiasts, the travel is the point. For them riding free, in the open air, is the only way to go.
The filmmakers take a few minutes to dispel the myth that most bikers are dangerous outlaws, a stereotype that's been deflated in recent years. These days, motorcyclists are likely to be middle-age or older more often than not, and as Trench and others point out, even the scary-looking ones are nice folks once you get to know them a little. Schliessmann says he was struck by the "friendliness and openness" of those he encountered at the rally and throughout the filmmaking process.
The documentary will play in its 102-minute form at the festival, but Schliessmann said the goal is to edit that down to a leaner 90-minute cut. The filmmakers are exploring distribution options for their self-funded film. If they get copyright approval, they plan to sell copies at this year's rally. As Schliessmann says, there's a built-in market with motorcyclists, and history buffs will find plenty to like in the film. "Why Sturgis?" also benefits from the city's close proximity to Deadwood, the nearby town that is the subject of a popular HBO series. ("Deadwood" fans will get a kick out of a photograph in the documentary that shows a hardware store bearing the name of Seth Bullock -- the protagonist of the historical Western series.)
Schliessmann, 38, a self-employed creative communications consultant, got into filmmaking through his work in advertising and design. Brune, 39, works in video production in Fort Wayne, IN.
And, Schliessmann says, they both have plenty more stories they'd like to tell.
The documentary "Why Sturgis?" was shown Saturday, April 9, at Wiekamp Hall, Room 1001, Indiana University South Bend, during the fourth annual Independent Video and Filmmakers Festival.
For more information please email us clicking on the links below:
Martin Schliessmann at Escape Route Flix
John Brune at Escape Route Flix
Escape Route Flix, LLC
8980 Cinnebar Drive
Indianapolis, IN 46268
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