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New film explores complexity of fabled bank robber

Published on

Cathy Dobson

There’s not much room for character development in 23 minutes, but Aaron Huggett’s latest indie film does an admirable job depicting both the nefarious and charming sides of real-life robber Red Ryan.

Ryan infamously went down in a hail of bullets during a 1936 holdup in Sarnia.

In broad daylight, Ryan and his hapless accomplice Harry Checkley drove to the liquor store at 140 Christina St. North, currently home to Costumes Canada.

For years, the two had mostly eluded capture despite their propensity for bold daytime heists. But this time it all went wrong.

The short film, designed for a half-hour television slot, was filmed on a shoestring budget over five days last September with about 100 volunteer cast and crew.

Huggett researched, wrote, directed and produced Red Ryan, shooting in a multitude of familiar locations in Petrolia, Sarnia and Wallaceburg. Locals will enjoy watching for landmarks like the Victoria Playhouse Petrolia, the historic Tuyl & Fairbank Hardware store, the Lougheed mansion, Canatara Park and, of course, the former liquor store at 140 Christina St.

As a period piece, the film’s attention to detail is terrific.

Huggett’s fascination with Ryan’s lifelong passion for crime is what drives the story. He might have had a chance at redemption, so why didn’t he take it? In a series of vignettes, the film hints at what motivated him and offers up its own theory in the final scene.

Huggett’s own brother, Dan, portrays Ryan as the manipulative bad boy he was. Dan Huggett turns in an engaging performance, ensuring that we care who Ryan was and how he related to the people who shared his car crash of a life.

As for Checkley’s character, actor Kevin Wyville is a hoot portraying Ryan’s sidekick, the dimwitted crook best left in the getaway car.

An advanced, private screening of the film last week was met with calls of “awesome” and “so good” from cast members there to see the finished version for the first time.

Huggett has submitted Red Ryan for inclusion in a number of film festivals, including the South Western International Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival.

In Sarnia, it premieres Oct. 7 at The Imperial Theatre when patrons will be encouraged to “paint the town Red.”

Tickets are $10 and already on sale. Money generated from the premiere is earmarked for Huggett’s next history-based production about the Black Donnellys.

“We’ll also see if there’s interest in Red Ryan for television distribution,” he said.

“I’d love to see it on CBC or the History Network.”


Watch for Sarnia artist Laura Kreviazuk working on a giant mural in the glass storefront of 100 Christina St. on the May 6 First Friday.  She’ll be kicking off a month-long mural project that will transform the windows at the downtown co-operative.

Note that the public is invited to take photos of Laura’s work throughout May and send them to be posted at www.artlocalsarnia.ca.

The completed mural will be unveiled June 3 to kick off the upcoming LOCAL Curated Show.

The Arts Journal features what’s great about Sarnia’s cultural fabric. Submit your ideas to [email protected] or 226-932-0985. 

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