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In Early Efforts, Speed Cinema Shows Its Promise

The Speed Art Museum’s new cinema isn’t even a week old, and it’s already bringing intriguing events to Louisville’s film scene.

On Wednesday evening, Speed film curator Dean Otto, Louisville-born producer/director Stu Pollard and the Louisville Film Society presented "I Saw the Light." A Hank Williams biopic, the film stars Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen and Bradley Whitford, and will be released in New York and Los Angeles on March 25.

The evening also featured a Q&A with the film’s writer-director Marc Abraham, a Louisville native. Much of Abraham’s output thus far has been as a producer.

“For a guy who’s produced more than 50 movies, this is his second directorial effort," Pollard told the audience. "We wanted to make [tonight] special. His mom is still in Louisville and close to 90 years old. This is a perfect place for her to come.”

Otto praised the partnership responsible for the event.

“It’s also been amazing to work with the Louisville Film Society,” he said. "That’s one of the things that makes Louisville great, is that we have so many incredible collaborations to bring together wonderful nights like tonight.”

As the lights dimmed in the Speed Cinema, the audience was treated to a couple trailers showcasing upcoming Speed offerings: “Hitchcock/Truffault” and “Chimes at Midnight.”

Then Abraham took the stage to introduce the film.

“I Saw The Light” focuses on the last 10 years of Williams' life, with a particular emphasis on his personal relationships. Elizabeth Olsen gives a moving performance as Audrey Williams, performing her own songs.

Which is to say: There's also plenty of music.

Hiddleston does all his own singing as well, and his beautiful voice and impeccable Southern accent could about carry the film all by their lonesome. Hiddleston captures the charm and magnetism of Williams; fans of both the actor and the singer are sure to love this film.

After the film, Abraham spoke with Otto and took questions, with much of the Q&A focusing on Hiddleston. The director offered offered insight into the decision to cast the British thespian, and into how they prepared.

Hiddleston’s involvement predates the actor’s star-making turn as Loki in the Marvel series.

“He hadn’t done 'Thor,' he hadn’t done 'Avengers,' which became gigantic movies. Nobody really knew who he was,” said Abraham.

The two initially met to discuss the film over dinner. Abraham offered the actor the role on the spot, without an audition, saying, “If you promise to stick with me for whatever it takes to get the money and put this movie together, we’ll do the movie -- what I’m saying is, the role’s yours.”

Hiddleston went on to make several high-grossing films while Abraham found financing. When the time came to start filming, Hiddleston was still onboard.

Abraham said the star’s rising visibility caused a funny change in the kinds of conversations he had with other filmmakers.

“When I first cast him, everyone said ‘Who’s Tom Hiddleston,’" he said. "And then when things blew up, ‘Hey man, how’d you get Tom Hiddleston?’”

To help record the music, and to help Hiddleston prepare to sing as Williams, Abraham recruited veteran musician and producer Rodney Crowell. Abraham said that process was intense.

“It’s hard to explain how much Tom put in,” he said. “Tom lived with Rodney, in Rodney’s house, and every day they practiced.”

The two reportedly worked on a variety of music to build the skills needed to capture Williams' unique voice and style. “They started singing the blues,” said Abraham. "The first thing Rodney said to him was, you wanna learn Hank Williams, you gotta learn the blues.”

The entire evening, from the trailers to the screening to the Q&A, seemed to reinforce the tacit promise of the new screening room. The Speed will deepen Louisville’s film scene.

"I Saw the Light" should hit Louisville the first week of April. In the meantime, Hiddleston’s covers of "Honkey Tonkin," "Hey Good Lookin" and "Jambalaya" are available on iTunes.