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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Tale of friendship set in Spain

For Kevin Noland, moviemaking is all about making connections.

Take, for example, how he got “Dawson’s Creek” actor Joshua Jackson to read the script for his film project “Americano.”

“My ex-girlfriend’s best friend is Josh Jackson’s agent’s assistant,” Noland explains.

Noland laughs as he says this over the phone from his Los Angeles office. But he’s being perfectly serious.

This is how they network in the film industry.

“Americano,” which will play Tuesday through Thursday at The Met, is Noland’s first film. And the screening, which will be the movie’s first public showing outside a festival, represents a homecoming for the first-time director in at least two respects.

One, as a 1990 graduate of Gonzaga Prep, it’s a return to the city of his youth.

Two, as the new owner of a 10-acre spread near Hangman Golf Course, it’s the start of the 33-year-old filmmaker’s attempt to have a career and still live in an area that’s as affordable as it is hospitable.

“For the price that I’m paying for a one-bedroom condo here (in L.A.),” he says, “I’m getting 10 acres with a river running through it.”

Noland, a Yakima native, is the second of two sons born to Jim and Anne Noland. Both teachers, the Nolands took Kevin and his brother Kelly in the mid-‘70s to Saudi Arabia, where they taught children of American oil workers.

When the marriage ended in divorce, Kevin’s father moved to the Tri-Cities. In 1980, Anne and the boys settled in Spokane.

The separation from his father, Noland says, is at least part of the reason why he developed an interest in film.

“On a deep level, honestly, when my parents got divorced it was the one way to communicate,” he says. “It was either through sports or film that you talked to your dad and still have the same experience: ‘Oh, did you go see that movie?’ “

But even when he graduated from the University of Washington, Noland didn’t think about becoming a filmmaker. It wasn’t until he spent a year backpacking around the world that the idea came to him.

“That’s when it hit me,” he says. “One of the most beautiful common denominators among every culture I met was cinema. And that’s when I put my college degree to good use, sweeping stages and schlepping camera gear.”

The stage-sweeping and camera-schlepping happened in the 1990s, during his first years in Los Angeles. He knows that the people who hired him considered him overqualified for grunt work.

But, he says, they also saw that he was hungry.

The work fed him both literally and intellectually. And the experience he gained helps him now immensely.

“It makes so much sense to know every position,” Noland says. “I’ve been a gaffer and a grip and a PA (production assistant) and everything. So now that I’m a director, I know all the games that are being played underneath.”

He first worked as a producer on a 1999 film titled “Cold Hearts.” (“All the producers sucked so bad that they all got fired,” he says. “I was the last man standing, so they gave me a producer credit.”)

Equipped with the know-how, he began working on a script based on his own experience in Spain.

“Americano” tells the story of three American friends (Jackson, Timm Sharp and Ruthanna Hopper) who roam the streets of Pamplona, running with the bulls, drinking wine, attending a bullfight and spending time with a Spanish beauty (Leonor Varela), with whom Jackson’s character becomes involved.

And while Noland says that casting a film is never easy, connections and friendship helped. Ruthanna Hopper, whom Noland calls “a dear friend,” gave the script to her father, Dennis Hopper – who took the role of an eccentric club owner.

The hard part, he says, was raising money. And not merely for the obvious reason that moviemaking isn’t the safest investment.

“I know this sounds like a cliché, but … Spokane people, we’re nice people,” Noland says. “We don’t see instantly the worst. And I gotta tell you, I was bled in the water down here the first few years.”

Example: When Dennis Hopper joined the cast, he agreed to let Noland bring introduce potential investors around to meet him.

“One of the grossest things that will happen is, people will look you in the eye, shake your hand and tell you, ‘Yes, I’ve got your money and yes, I’m good for this,’ ” Noland says. “But after the third time, I realized that they had no intention, none, of ever cutting a check. They just wanted to hang out at Dennis Hopper’s.”

The experience outside Los Angeles was just the reverse. Noland’s brother provided the first $25,000. Noland maxed out enough credit cards to raise $150,000 himself. And then a Spokane friend, Melinda Rainier, led Noland to the investor who put up the rest of the money.

In Spain two years ago, during the 20-odd-day shoot in July, Noland, the cast and a crew consisting mostly of volunteers encountered even more kindness. One town mayor was particularly nice, giving Noland access to a bullfight, lending out fiesta costumes and charging nothing for her troubles.

“The only thing that I upset with the mayor about was, over there in the culture it’s OK to drink wine at lunch,” Noland says with a laugh. “So she gave out free wine every day at lunch, and that didn’t help my crew.”

The effort was worth it: The film’s main strength is its feel for place. At times, Noland’s camera puts you right in the Pamplona streets as bulls race past – which isn’t surprising since some of the scenes were filmed by Noland himself wearing a minicam.

After another half-dozen days shooting Dennis Hopper’s scenes in L.A., Noland began post-production. He finished “Americano” in January, and it debuted June 8 at the Seattle Film Festival.

Now the film comes to Spokane.

But Noland is already looking ahead. He’s again trying to raise money through his company, Spirit Lake Pictures, this time to film “The Secret Life of Cowboys,” Tom Groneberg’s memoir of a city boy trying to make it as a Montana rancher.

Noland is connected to filmmaking as much as he is to Spokane.

“It’s brutal,” he says. “It’s a curse. It’s like falling in love – you can’t help it, but god it hurts. I mean, every day just sucks. But you have so many moments that are so deep and powerful, you accept it.”

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