GTPulse: Yooper Filmmaker Returns To Michigan To Debut Her First Movie, ‘Up There’

“When people have a connection to the Upper Peninsula it’s like, a serious connection. We knew we would have an audience if we came back here.”

Zoe Kanters has made Yoopers everywhere proud. The 27-year-old who grew up in Norway, Michigan premiered her movie Up There in select Michigan movie theaters this past weekend. The movie was shot throughout the U.P. and Zoe not only stars in the movie, she and friends Daniel Weingarten and Michael Blaustein wrote it.

“We knew I was going to play Emma, Dan was going to play Jack and Michael was going to play my brother Champ. However, we wrote it pretty quickly. We were really focused on story and character building.”

The three met in Los Angeles, where Zoe now lives. She was born in Evanston, Illinois and vacationed in the U.P. when she was a kid. Eventually her family moved to Norway, Michigan when she was 11, and she lived there until leaving to attend University of Michigan, where she studied theatre.

“The community is so supportive and has always been so supportive, and being such a tiny community everyone truly knows everybody. It’s a family, and I’m grateful to have them, not only from growing up but since leaving they’ve been such an amazing support system”

The idea for Up There was influenced by a tragedy Zoe and the town of Norway faced when she was a high school student.

“When I was a senior in high school there was a shooting in the town, where I lost a very close friend of mine along with two other teenagers. It was an event that changed my life and the community’s life. So when we were playing with the idea of writing a feature film, immediately that experience of dealing with that grief and that trauma kept coming back to me. I wanted to use Emma as a vehicle to explore that inexplicable loss. It felt right to go back where it kind of stems from.”

The character Zoe plays, Emma, is a sweet, small town girl who has been changed by a tragedy of her own. Emma’s parents were killed in an accident, leaving her and her veteran brother with no one but each other. She processes the pain and grief through having conversations with her deceased parents as if they were with her in real time. Her sweet disposition, access to local people and tragic backstory catch the attention of a visiting journalist, Jack Cohen. Jack is in town to cover the closing of a mine, but Zoe begins to pique his interest for a different story entirely.

“Everyone is trying to maintain, and move forward from this grief and nobody knows how to do it. When an outsider comes in and shakes things up a little bit you can’t stay in the same pattern that you’re used to. Jack kind of gets Emma out of a pattern accidentally.”

The movie was filmed in the summer of 2017. The crew was small and stayed in Zoe’s childhood home in Norway.

“We stayed at my childhood home and my mom cooked for us for two weeks. It was a teeny tiny crew. It was a little bit like camp,” Zoe said with a laugh.

The movie took 17 days to shoot and was finished with editing last year. Before premiering in theaters, the movie was shown in different film festivals throughout the United States. It was important to Zoe for Up There to have screenings in Michigan. 

“This truly wouldn’t have happened without that community. Businesses opened their doors for us. People got in front of the camera, and were behind the camera and were as passionate and driven to make the film and help us in any way that they could. It was a really amazing community to come back to.”

Up There debuted in theaters this past weekend in four Michigan theaters and a Wisconsin theater. The Bay Theatre in Suttons Bay is screening Up There through this Thursday. If snowy winter blues are keeping you in, the movie is now streaming on Amazon, iTunes and Google Play too.


Categories: GTPulse