Star City Film Festival taking place July 19-20 at Waukon High School

Waukon native Robert Barhite among attending filmmakers; Katie O’Regan’s premiere of “Give ‘Em Hell Honey” features scenes filmed at local venues

by Julie Berg-Raymond

Sacred Noise Society, Inc. and Katie O’Regan, of Waukon, will host the Star City Film Festival Friday and Saturday, July 19 and 20, at the Waukon High School (WHS) Auditorium, located at 1061 3rd Avenue NW, Waukon.
The festival features 54 films (25 of which will be screened during the festival); a red carpet; special guest filmmakers; an awards ceremony; an after-fest gathering at the ProvERBial Taproom in Waukon; and the premiere of “Give ‘Em Hell Honey!” written, produced and directed by Katie O’Regan, at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 20. Los Angeles-based actor Mikael Rossi (“Hollywood Babydoll,” 2022, “The Devil’s Network” and “Blue Falcon,” 2024), who portrays wealthy art patron Sydney Dune in the film, will be attending the festival.
There is no mandatory ticket price for the film festival; a $25 donation is suggested. All Allamakee county students are admitted at no charge. Online tickets are available for people who want to view the films online from July 19-22. Online tickets are $25 and may be purchased at Ticket holders will be given a password to log in to see the films.
The 2024 Star City Film Festival is sponsored by Allamakee County Economic Development and Tourism and Waukon State Bank.

Friday, July 19, films will be screened in the WHS Auditorium from 5 to 10 p.m. Attendees may select which films they want to see and may come and go as they please. A schedule of films can be viewed at
Saturday, July 20 will offer a full day of activities. Films will be screened in the WHS Auditorium beginning at 10:30 a.m. A red-carpet event for photos is at 5:30 p.m. The premiere of “Give ‘Em Hell Honey!” is at 6:30 p.m., followed by the awards ceremony from 8:30 to 9 p.m. An after-fest gathering will be held at the ProvERBial Taproom in Waukon, located at 609 Rossville Road, Waukon.

Eight filmmakers are attending the film festival; their movies will be screened Saturday, beginning at 1 p.m. The filmmakers are Jacob Lefeber - “Cappucino”; Jackson Peterson - “Rule Breakers”; Ben Leasum - “Before Closing”; Sarah Cauldron - “Flying Lesson”; Ezekiel N. Drews, Lucid Films, Ltd. Co. - “Happy Birthday,” a thriller; Waukon native Robert Barhite - “Shake of The Day” and “Your Feedback is Important”; Todd Ciske - “Cheeched And Handy Season 2”; and Harry Waldman - “Bay For Blood.”

“Give ‘Em Hell Honey!” is a kind of sequel to O’Regan’s earlier film, “Painting Jane” - which premiered at the 2022 Star City Film Festival in Waukon. A press release for that premiere offered a synopsis: “With dignity, love, grace, and a touch of humor, this film gives a voice to families struggling with the reality of aging parents with dementia and the inevitable reality of end-of-life issues.” That film was O’Regan’s adaptation of a play - which limited in some ways how she would be able to tell the story she wanted to tell.
In “Painting Jane,” viewers first met Jane Nelson - a painter and art professor in Portland, OR who is doing her best to juggle a career along with attending to her complicated - and long-distance - relationships with her ailing mother, Doris and her stepfather, Lou, who live in Minnesota. When it becomes clear that Lou is developing dementia and is no longer capable of caring for his wife at home, Jane tries to convince him that they should move into assisted living. Lou is having none of that, though; and Jane’s mostly estranged sister, Cindy - who lives in Florida - is no help.
“‘Painting Jane’” is really the essence of the movie,” O’Regan said in a 2022 interview with The Standard. “Metaphorically, she’s painting her interior - her transformation is about her acceptance of her parents’ dementia. Her acceptance of ‘this is how life is,’ is deeply transformational.”
With both films, O’Regan worked as screenwriter, set designer, costumer, producer and casting director - and she wrote and sang all the music. Indeed, O’Regan is an accomplished singer and dancer; the soundtrack to her new film is sublime - it will surely be a talking point among film-goers long after the festival weekend is over. If time permits, there’s a good chance O’Regan will perform, live, the opening and closing piece, “Collectively,” after the film’s screening Saturday evening - “I want to convey a message of hope for us all,” she says of the piece.
As a “sequel” to “Painting Jane,” “Give ‘Em Hell Honey!” (the film’s title echoes what O’Regan’s father, Francis, said to her throughout her life before her performances) gives viewers a Jane who is a more complete human being, artist, woman. And O’Regan’s father may have been the inspiration behind the more fully developed character. O’Regan recalls him asking her, “‘What about poor Jane? What about her? What happened when her parents died? What does she do?’” “Give ‘Em Hell Honey!” begins to answer those questions. In the process, O’Regan says, “I wrote the movie I wanted to write.”
The film is structured as a story-within-a-story. In order to show Jane’s evolution of self, the new film carries forward the story of the central pain of her life by placing key scenes from “Painting Jane” at the center of the film. (Audiences familiar with that film will likely find it a delight to see again its lead cast members: Dean Scofield as Jane’s stepfather, Lou; Diana Angelina as Jane’s mother, Doris; and Liza Asner as Jane’s sister, Cindy.)
Bookending the revisiting of the earlier film are scenes of the present time: Jane is an accomplished and well-known artist, and she has begun to heal from her pain (one of her mother’s last wishes for her was that she would be able to “put a smile on [her] face and enjoy the rest of [her] life”). As Jane observes, though, grief is “a great trickster” - it can sneak up at seemingly random moments and in unexpected ways. This, she recognizes now, is how life is.

One of the high points of O’Regan’s new film is the introduction of a new character, the wealthy art patron Sydney Dune, played by Los Angeles-based actor Mikael Rossi. Sydney - an admirer of Jane’s work - and Jane meet, begin to talk, and find they have a great deal in common.
In an email interview, Rossi addressed the role of Sydney and why it appealed to him. “The character itself was an instant hit for me,” Rossi says. “I loved immediately the duality of the coldness and sharp focus of the businessman in Sydney, versus his ability to show empathy for Jane and her hardship in having to manage the Alzheimer disease situation of her parents. The best moment for me is when Sydney decides to open up to Jane and reveals that he had to face a comparable situation when his grandmother developed dementia.”
Indeed, Rossi says the movie itself appealed to him because of “the importance of raising awareness of a disease like Alzheimer’s and of the struggles that the families affected by it must face.” But, he says, it’s important “that the movie also shows that, even in the saddest times of our lives, there is always room for the unexpected and for happiness.”
Rossi has high praise for O’Regan as a fellow actor. “Katie is an amazing acting colleague as she is not afraid to dive deep into her feelings to bring a character to life; that made my job as an actor much easier - as whenever we were acting, I totally felt I was talking to Jane Nelson and being transported into a parallel universe.”
And, he says, he could not have asked for a better director. “What I liked about Katie was how clearly she described what the scene was about; and I loved how much attention she put on my delivery - to make sure my dialogues were always clear for the audience. She made me reach a fine balance between the use of a foreign accent, without sacrificing projection and clarity of speech.”
Rossi, born and raised in Italy, has acted in English, Spanish and Italian - and says he feels blessed for having had those opportunities, “because it allows me to explore different cultures and reach out to a diverse group of people.” Rossi is at work on another independent movie, currently in post-production. “It is a dramedy,” he says, “and in it I play a quirky villain/Instagram influencer who gives bad love advice to his roommate.”

“Give ‘Em Hell Honey!” consumed O’Regan’s life for the seven months it took to complete, as labors of love will do. “I wanted a movie that was very authentically ‘me,’” she says. Though the film is not an autobiography, it contains autobiographical elements that allow O’Regan to honor her mother and father in ways meaningful to her.
A portrait that, in the film, is meant to represent Jane’s biological father (who died when she was a little girl) is actually a portrait of O’Regan’s father, Francis. Francis, who died in March of last year, has a walk-on part in the film (look for him in the church scene). A portrait that, in the film, is meant to represent Dr. Clara Panos - a famous artist, she was Jane’s mentor and Sydney’s grandmother - is actually a portrait of O’Regan’s mother, Leona. “Panos was my mother’s maiden name,” O’Regan notes - and she named the film’s Dr. Panos in memory of her grandmother, Clara Panos. Finally, O’Regan filmed scenes in Waukon and at the Hanover Catholic Church, just outside of Waukon - where her parents were married and are now buried.

A word about Lacey - canine cast member in both “Painting Jane” and “Give ‘Em Hell Honey!” - who may well have a higher profile, now, than any of the actors in either film.
On a recent flight that would eventually carry them home to Waukon from their Los Angeles apartment, Lacey and O’Regan found themselves stranded on an airport tarmac for two and a half hours. The pilot offered to take Lacey outside for a walk, and a passenger captured them on video. The video was posted on TikTok, where it went “viral” (“going viral” is when a piece of content spreads quickly across social media platforms, being shared by thousands or even millions of users in a very short time span.)
Newsweek magazine picked up the story: “Woman and Her Corgi Stranded on Plane for 2.5 Hours, Pilot Steps In,” by Soo Kim, published June 25, 2024. ‘A video of a pilot taking a passenger’s dog outside for a brief walk during a delay has gone viral on TikTok. The moment was captured in a video shared by Alison wonderland (@alisonwonderland), which has garnered 1.8 million views since it was posted June 22. The incident took place on a United flight.’” (
In “Give ‘Em Hell Honey!” Lacey essentially plays herself - an adorable little dog who makes people happy. Jane’s mom, Doris, at one point tells Jane she loves Lacey. “Lacey is like a little grand puppy to Doris,” O’Regan says. “She’s the grandchild that Jane never gave her - as Doris reminds Jane, in the film.”
Lacey’s most important role in the film, though, is perhaps located elsewhere. “Lacey saves Jane’s life with love and affection, and Lacey represents a little angel that ushers souls to heaven and comforts those left behind,” O’Regan says. “She’s the spirit guide of the movie.”