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Zombie film with a heart
GSU professor's story subject of grad's film
W ArkinZombiegirl
Erryn Arkin (CIA: Crime Investigation Australia) plays the socially conscious professor, Peter, whose life is changed by a tag-along child zombie played by Abigail de los Reyes in the short film "Followed" directed by Georgia Southern alumnus James Kicklighter. - photo by Special

If you go
      Tuesday's screening of "Followed" is sponsored by Georgia Southern's Communication Arts department. It will be shown at 7 p.m. in the Russell Union Theatre and is free and open to the public.

       It's a story of the walking dead but unlike any other you've ever seen.
       "Followed" is a big-budget short film based on a short story by Georgia Southern professor and Hugo Award-winning writer Will McIntosh. The story is about a professor, Peter, who finds his life turned upside-down by a little zombie girl who finds him and follows him where ever he goes.
       This socially conscious film, directed by Georgia Southern alumnus James Kicklighter, was shot in Macon at Mercer University and Wesleyan College with more than 140 people hired as extras for roles as students, Secret Service agents and zombies that symbolize society's disadvantaged and oppressed.
       The film will officially debut at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth as the lead of "The Human Condition" block. A special screening of the film, however, will be held at GSU's Russell Union Theater on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The screening is free and open to the public.
       Although Kicklighter and McIntosh both have ties to GSU, they had no previous ties to each other.
       "The irony of all this is the short story that Dr. McIntosh wrote came to me from a writer in New Mexico," Kicklighter said, "Even though I went to school there. I did not know he existed."
       Kicklighter met the writer of the screenplay, Maureen Cooke, at a film festival three years ago when Kicklighter was showing another film he made called "Di Passaggio," and after first hearing about the story, he was unsure that he was the right person to make the film.
       "She said ‘Hey, I got this script from this author. It's a sci-fi story. It's a zombie story. You might be interested in it,'" Kicklighter said. "I was like, ‘Well have you seen any of my other work? I don't have a clue how to make a zombie film,' but then she said, ‘It's a different kind of story. You should seriously take a look at it,' so I did, and I was really impressed with it."
       Kicklighter said it was only later that he realized that he had finished his senior year at the same school McIntosh was teaching.
       "It was a really nice ‘small world' kind of moment," he said it.
       "Followed" is not your typical zombie story and Kicklighter said that's what really appealed to him.
       "I was just really impressed with the way that it handled some serious themes. I like that the zombies are symbolic rather than the traditional flesh-eating zombies," he said. "It's not very often, especially in genres like Zombie films, where you really have the opportunity to do something truly unique."
       For McIntosh, the idea for the story started in his graduate social psychology class a few years ago.
       "We were talking about cognitive dissonance and the idea of having to rationalize things that make us uncomfortable, and the discussion we were having was about discomfort people often feel when they're living well and knowing that there are other people who are suffering terribly," he said. "It just got me thinking, and that's where ‘Followed' came from. In a way, it's an expression of my own, working through my own feelings of conflict and guilt over it."
       Even though the story was published in a zombie anthology, McIntosh said the walking dead in his story are not really zombies.
       "I pictured them as newly dead people, not overly scary, but these almost lifeless corpses that just move around, pale and stiff and kind of more pathetic in some ways than scary," he said.
       "The way I approached it was that they are somewhat of a crossover between a zombie and a ghost," Kicklighter said. "Everyone can see the zombies, but like a ghost, kind of comes back for a reason, for unfinished business. They won't bite you. They're not going to change you. They're going to follow you around, be a shadow that's with you all the time. It's sort of like a ghost but in the physical form of a zombie."
       This is the first time Kicklighter has adapted a film from source material and said that although there were some changes made in the story in the process he was determined not to change the story's message.
       Erryn Arkin ("CIA: Crime Investigation Australia") plays the socially conscious professor, Peter, whose life is changed by a tag-along child zombie (Abigail de los Reyes). The film is the Australian actor's American film debut. Arkin was found through the The Internet Movie Database's Fresh Faces Program.
       "We really had several options where we had some name American actors that really wanted the role, but I wanted to get someone that was a fresh face for it but not one that was brand new either," Kicklighter said. "That's why I started looking internationally. I found Erryn, and he was quite a find. He's a great actor, a great guy, we were very fortunate to have him."
       But the most difficult person to cast was the zombie girl. For Kicklighter, the role was the most important one to get exactly right.
       "We really looked all over the country, and we found Abigail, ironically, through Twitter," he said. "One of my former professors ... saw that we were posting about how we were looking for someone to fill the part and she said ‘Hey, there's this guy I know in San Francisco, and he's a pastor and his daughters are in acting. You should look at them,' and that was it."
       According to Kicklighter, the film would not be officially completed until this weekend, and Statesboro's screening will be the first time the public will get to see it.
       The film's premier is set for April 30 in Seattle, Wash.

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