Three years ago filmmaker Chip Hale embarked on a journey to create a documentary about the World Famous Kilgore College Rangerettes. This Saturday, "Sweethearts of the Gridiron" will return home for its Kilgore premiere.
"It was a long process. It was exciting at times, it was stressful at times," producer Mikaela Addison said. "We got it done, and that's a huge thing. I think there are a lot of films that maybe start and don't ever finish, so we got it done and we're happy with it, and the next step is distribution."
"The journey has been long, but I think everyone has just been so happy this year with the accolades the film has gotten," Hale said.
Over its nine months of film festivals, beginning in February 2015, the film has earned awards from nine film festivals - eight in Texas and one from Tenerife Film Festival in Madrid, Spain.
The film's first screening came at Denton's Thin Line Festival on Feb. 21. The sold-out theater was filled with those in and out of the Rangerette bubble.
"There's no amount of mental preparation you can do for a sold out first-ever screening," Hale said at the time before the showing, describing the response as "overwhelming."
At the time, Addison, a Rangerette Forever herself, called the event "nerve wracking."
"I think it also shows that the story is important," executive producer Michael Wayne said before the Denton screening. "That the organization is still relevant even now and that people want to see the story. They want to see an updated version of the story."
From its beginning, Hale and his Overton Films group have made more than 13 edits to the film as they prepared it for the film festival circuit and then its homecoming.
"It's been the highest highs and the lowest lows all along the process," Wayne said.
In September 2014, Hale said, "I feel like my being inside of the bubble, if you will, I just wouldn't let it not be something that I'm proud to show them."
The version people see Saturday night could be different than the one they saw a year ago because of the different edits that have taken place, Hale said.
"I'm 97 percent there, and I'm pleased that East Texas finally gets to see it," he said. "I hope people enjoy themselves."
"Nothing's more fun than seeing it in a big, friendly hometown crowd," Kilgore Mayor and former Rangerette Manager Ronnie Spradlin said.
For some people, Saturday will serve as a sort of reunion.
"I think I'm most curious to see how people react that don't have strong ties to the Rangerettes," he said. "If it evokes a lot of emotions about going after what your dream is in life and sometimes you're successful and sometimes you're not. ... There's a lot of life lessons in it that are awfully strongly portrayed that I'm really looking forward to what people (take) away from it."
So far more than 200 people have confirmed their attendance at one of the two screenings - 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. - of the movie at Dodson Auditorium.
Tickets are still available online and will be available at the door for each screening of the premiere.
"It's only appropriate that it ends its journey in Kilgore. ... I guess there's something kind of serendipitous about the movie. It started here in 2012, and for all intents and purposes it's probably going to end here in October 2015," Hale, a former Rangerette manager, said.
Wayne is looking forward to seeing what a hometown, partisan crowd thinks of the finished product.
"This is kind of where the process started - wow - probably close to three years ago, and this is where we get to kind of bring it completely full circle and only right that we had something big in East Texas," he said. "People have been asking for it for months, and we are ecstatic to bring it to them and to celebrate with them and everyone else."
Now, the production crew has been in talks with a company out of Dallas that has expressed interest in distributing the movie.
Hale's goal for the movie is that it benefits both the City of Kilgore and the Rangerettes in bringing tourism and recognition.
"I feel right now that the movie has been good to (Overton Films), and I'm now ready for the movie to be good to the city and the Rangerettes, and if nothing else comes from the movie other than becoming those two things, I don't see what's wrong with that," he said.
Her work on "Sweethearts of the Gridiron" was Addison's first job out of college and allowed her to see a different side of filmmaking.
"I had just graduated whenever we started, so Chip took a huge chance in hiring me," she said. "Bringing me on to work and that has really opened the door for me for things I want to do in the future and come back and continue to work with Chip. It's kind of changed my life being able to be a part of it. I would have never been a part of it if I hadn't come back and tried out a second time for Rangerettes."
While working on the project, Addison said, she was able to reminisce about her own experiences as a Rangerette.
"I'm sure that seeing it in Kilgore is going to be a completely different experience... It's probably going to be more emotional," she said.
While attending the premiere, Addison said, she is most excited to see the moments when the audience laughs or cries.
"They all feel what they felt when they were trying out," she said.
Whether someone has gone through the Rangerette tryout process, current Rangerette Director Dana Blair said, the movie might be eye-opening for them.
"I think it shows a side of Rangerettes that not everyone gets to see," she said. The film includes perspectives from the hopefuls and what they face during the audition process and from Blair and Assistant Director and Choreographer Shelley Wayne as they make the sometimes life-changing decision of who made the line that year.
"Really and truly it shows a side that I don't see because they interview the girls throughout the tryout process," Blair said. "Boy, I'm glad I'm not in their heads or else I wouldn't be able to do my job at all. Just to hear their idea of what it's like on that end, it's very hard... I'm glad I'm not a mind reader."
Although Blair had approval on the project throughout the process, this will be the first time in a year she has seen the finished product, so she expects it to be a little different.
Tickets for the 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. showings Saturday at Dodson Auditorium are available online at http://tinyurl.com/SweetheartsOfTheGridiron for $15 each and will be available at the door.