Premiering Friday, April 24, at the Kiwanis International, Submerge: Ni’re Reborn follows a woman like the one Witherspoon found himself driving past every day — a destitute thirty-something driven to hold a sign asking for food and money.
Witherspoon wanted to offer someone in her situation some kind of catharsis through film.
Pregnant and penniless, the protagonist, Erin (Erin A. Moore), is transported to retro-futuristic ruins, where she emerges as a warrior named Ni’re — an anagram of her name on Earth.
The film is a sequel to The Chronicles of Ni’re — an official selection at several local film festivals last year, including Gen Con.
Witherspoon has been a sci-fi fan since his parents took him to movies like Star Wars when he was a boy. With Submerge, he wants to mirror what mesmerized him about 1978's Superman, mixing the ordinary and the otherworldly.
Witherspoon manages to make fantastic settings out of familiar Indy locations. With its Romanesque pillars and pavilion, Coxhall Gardens in Carmel makes a fitting lair for Queen Rain (Shamekia Hunt). And the installation of "ancient ruins" at Holliday Park provides an arresting backdrop for Ni’re’s gritty, primitive battles.
But the film aims for more than mere escapism. Its surreal world is symbolic, representing “what’s inside Ni’re, the stronger side of her,” Moore said.
Much like Ni’re, Witherspoon and Moore found themselves stumbling into this sci-fi world. Two years ago, they had no filmmaking experience. Witherspoon was working as an R&B singer by the stage name of LaSean. He met Moore at a RAW Artists show downtown where she was displaying her oil paintings, and he eventually asked her to appear in a music video for one of his songs.
“We ought to do a sci-fi action film,” Witherspoon told her during the video shoot. “It was as simple as that,” Moore said.
What started as a whim became a film series that could have legs in the sci-fi community.
“This could be a full-fledged weekly series on the Syfy channel,” said Bishop Stevens, who plays Ni’re’s nemesis, Lord Raz. (Stevens now stars on the Fox crime drama, Empire.)
"If the Syfy channel has stuff like Sharknado, certainly Submerge can get on there, considering it's much better," Stevens said with a chuckle.
Stevens imagines the Submerge films branching out into television, comic books, and beyond, gaining Trekkie-type fans at sci-fi conventions.
Witherspoon has similarly big plans for Submerge, which he will announce at its red carpet premiere this weekend. In addition to the cast and crew, the premiere will include a special performance by singer Nicole Michelle as well as members of the band, The Grinning Man, who scored the film. The meet-and-greet on the red carpet is at 6; the screening starts at 7 and includes the shorts, Submerge: The Frozenland and Submerge: The Chronicles of Ni're. Regular tickets are $5, $7 for VIP tickets, which give attendees access to a reception after the screening.