'The Welcome'

The road to complete "The Welcome" was long, but filmmakers Kim Shelton and Bill McMillan said the film finally will have its homecoming when it debuts at the Ashland Independent Film Festival in early April.

Individuals and businesses donated money, goods and services in order to bring veterans and their families to a 2008 retreat that was followed by a "welcome home" ceremony in Ashland on Memorial Day. Since that day, Shelton and McMillan have been raising more money to finish the film and get it before audiences.

The couple have been living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The editing process alone took 10 months and the labors of two editors, said Shelton, the film's director and, with McMillan, co-producer.

"It was a long process to take the five days of the retreat and the public performance and make it into something that was representative of what happened," Shelton said. "It was a struggle."

The film will screen at noon on April 9 in the Ashland Historic Armory, 208 Oak St.

"We wanted to bring it back to Ashland," said Shelton. "Most of the veterans will come to Ashland. None of them have seen it. They're all nervous."

The veterans will see the film during a private screening the night before its public debut. They've been offered the choice to see it again with the hundreds of people expected to pack the armory during the public screening.

The 2008 Memorial Day ceremony, which took place in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's large Angus Bowmer Theatre, sold out.

McMillan said he believes most of the veterans will attend the public screening.

Some likely will be willing to answer questions from the audience, Shelton said.

McMillan said the veterans felt welcomed by Ashlanders and other residents of Southern Oregon when they attended the 2008 retreat and public ceremony.

"That's why they want to come back. They know they will be well received, and that's what veterans need," he said.

Shelton said the veterans who attended the retreat and public ceremony were a unique breed in that they knew cameras would be following them, yet they were still willing to share their experiences through stories and poetry. The film crew took pains to be unobtrusive during the emotional retreat sessions.

"The five days were so intense for all of us. They were in the experience of what was happening. Everybody cried. I would look at the cameraman and tears would be running down his face," Shelton said.

Shelton and McMillan are working to have "The Welcome" shown in other communities — in theaters, churches and other public venues.

They are creating a new Web site, www.thewelcomethemovie.com, where people can learn how to bring the film to their communities. People can also buy DVD copies for viewing.

Ashland Independent Film Festival tickets go on sale in the middle of this month online and at a kiosk on the downtown Plaza. The 10th annual festival runs April 7-11. For more information, visit www.ashlandfilm.org.

The full festival schedule with film summaries, trailers and more will be posted by March 10, according to festival organizers.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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