Woodstock native uses McHenry County as setting for his film, opening Wednesday

Sebastian Keck grew up watching movies at the Woodstock Theatre. 

Now his name is on the theatre's marquee as director of "The Last Rider," a film he shot entirely in McHenry County.

"That's a dream come true," said Keck, whose parents, Jeffrey and Sandra Keck, live in Woodstock. Sebastian grew up in Harvard before the family moved to Woodstock about five years ago.

Having created the film as a senior thesis film while studying at Columbia College of Chicago, he since has moved to Los Angeles and is working as a production office assistant and grip on movie sets.

He'll return to town, though, for the official premiere of the film at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Woodstock Theatre, 209 Main St. 

A reception will follow at the Woodstock Public House, 201 N. Main St., with ticket costs of $50 a person and $90 a couple going toward Sebastian's efforts to enter his film into festivals.

Along with privately owned spots in and near Woodstock, such as a hay field in Bull Valley, he filmed at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union and Glacial Park in Ringwood. 

"I think it's a beautiful place where we live, and I wanted to capture it on film," he said. "Northern Illinois, in my opinion, is as beautiful land as anywhere in the country."

The film was shot in 10 days with up to 60 people a day, including Sebastian's family and friends, helping out in one way or another. 

The crew involved, including Columbia classmates, prepped for about seven months before filming began, while others stepped in during filming.

"I needed the community to make this film, and the community came together," he said.

Inspired by trips to the Illinois Railway Museum and the Trail of History festival hosted annually at Glacial Park, Sebastian knew he wanted to make a western. And he knew exactly where.

"The Last Rider" is set in the late 19th century at the closing of the American Frontier. A Nativa American, Round Mask, and his companion, Agata, live on the last piece of frontier land unclaimed by the U.S. government or occupied by settlers.

The two must decide whether to stand alone or together or flee.

"It's a story between making an ultimate choice and trying to make love work in a changing world," Sebastian said. "They need to make choices about where they really belong and who they really are in relationship to themselves and each other.

"I just couldn't think of a harder choice for people to have to make. It's a universal theme. I think nowadays that translates into your love versus your career. A lot of people have to make that choice all the time these days."

His friend and former classmate at Columbia, Kelsey Talton, served as cinematographer, and since has moved to Hollywood. Talton had just graduated Columbia when she began working on the film.

"It was a very large undertaking because nothing like that had been accomplished or tried before at Columbia, the magnitude of having horses and such," she said. 

Preventing anything "modern" from appearing in scenes presented a bit of a challenge, she said, but they were able to overcome it.

The film wouldn't have been completed without the effort and support of everyone involved, Sebastian said. 

"It was a bunch of college students, young people, trying to do something bigger than themselves, not settling to just make a student film or something like that, but trying to prepare for their careers," he said. 

"People gave everything to make this movie work."

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