Burning house on the prairie

Corbin Bernsen partnered with Kipling, Sask., for his new film

A few years ago, when Montreal blogger Kyle MacDonald was famously working his way through a series of increasingly significant online swaps in an attempt to trade a red paper clip for a house, the town of Kipling, Sask., population 1,100, got involved. Kipling, 175 km southeast of Regina, happened to have an empty house on hand, and traded it with MacDonald. In exchange, the town received an acting gig (MacDonald had traded for that with American actor Corbin Bernsen, in exchange for a rare KISS snow globe).

Bernsen, best known for his role in the ’80s series L.A. Law, travelled to Kipling to hold auditions for a part in his film, Donna on Demand. “I was so impressed with the talent I told the mayor I’d love to come back and make a movie,” he says. “I guess I must have had a weak moment,” the mayor in question, Pat Jackson, recalls. “I said, ‘Why don’t we put up the funding?’ ” The town soon formed Kipling Film Productions and began selling shares in the project to townsfolk, raising $250,000. Bernsen wrote a script—Rust, about a priest in the grips of a mid-life crisis—with Kipling in mind.

And so last January, Kipling became a film set. Locals took up acting parts alongside Bernsen, who also directed and stars in Rust. And when the script called for a burning farmhouse, Bernsen suggested one particularly creepy abandoned building. It turned out to be the home where convicted child molester Peter Whitmore abused two boys in 2006; one victim turned up for the shoot to see it consumed in flame.

Rust premiered in Kipling last week. Jackson says the town already has a couple of distribution deals on the table. Whatever happens, the swap with MacDonald paid off: “The resulting publicity,” she says, “we could not have purchased for millions.

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