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Best Bar in America

Best Bar in America

“The Best Bar in America” is a road trip film that follows a down-on-his-luck writer named Sanders as he rides his motorcycle across the southwest and into Montana.

“I’m writing a guide book on bars,” Sanders tells his eventual sidekick Northway over drinks in one of the 70 bars where scenes were shot for the film. “I’m reviewing all the bars and taverns in the West.”

“All of them?” Northway asks.

Like any good road trip film, “Best Bar” is about a journey with multiple meanings.

For local filmmakers Eric and Damon Ristau, the DVD release party Saturday for “Best Bar” will mark an unofficial end to the almost five-year journey they took to make the film.

“It was a long road,” Eric said during an interview this week with Damon.

The release party will be at 6 p.m. at Plonk and include a screening “Best Bar,” which was released on DVD earlier this summer. It’ll be the first time most of the film’s cast and crew have seen the final cut.

“Best Bar” was all but done in 2009 when the Ristaus ran out of time, money and energy to finished the film they wrote, directed, filmed and produced.

They worked for eight months to film “Best Bar,” traveling around Montana and throughout the Southwest United States to get their shots, working with a cast and crew mostly recruited from Montana.

A rough edit of “Best Bar” was screened in front of a sold-out crowd at the Wilma Theatre in July 2009.

But the film wasn’t quite right.

“We weren’t completely happy with the cut. I think we just needed a break,” Eric said.

A frustrating sound mixing process was the final straw. The Ristaus shelved the unfinished film shortly after the Wilma screening.

Eric moved away and both brothers moved on to their own film projects with their own production companies.

It wasn’t until last spring that the Ristaus resurrected the “Best Bar.”

They sat together for a weekend and took three days to finally finish the film.

“When we came back together we realized this really isn’t that bad,” Damon said.

***

“Best Bar” follows Sanders, played by Andrew Rizzo, on an often debaucherous quest to drink his way through the West as he travels on a worn down motorcycle. Sanders finds Northway, played by David Ackroyd, along the way and Northway eventually convinces Sanders to head for the fictional town of Three Rivers, Montana.

“He’s searching for himself,” Damon said. “It’s a road trip film, it’s a buddy film, it’s a love story.”

Rizzo, returned to Missoula recently after moving to New York, eventually did marry the film’s lead actress, Lee (McAfee) Rizzo.

“The love story in (‘Best Bar) isn’t just part of the script,” Damon said. “It’s the real deal.”

Along with shots of iconic Montana watering holes like the Sip and Dip in Great Falls, a host of Missoula bars are prominently featured in the film.

Now that the film is finished, the Ristaus have begun a hard push to distribute “Best Bar.”

They recently won a Montana Film Office grant to help them distribute it internationally.

Motorcycle magazines published in Europe have been buzzing about the film, and it will also be shown at New York Motorcycle Film Festival.

“It will be total self-distribution,” Eric said.

The release party on Saturday will celebration of all the Montana people who helped make film, and wouldn’t let it die.

“It’s exciting to hand DVDs to people who were in it and helped make it, and to have proudly finished it,” Damon said.

Eric agrees that the final destination for “Best Bar” has turned out to be a one worth the long journey.

“I think the film is better now than it would have been if we finished it back then,” Eric said. “We were just so fortunate to have worked with such talented people. We want to say ‘Here it is, thank you for all your time.’ ”

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Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at jenna.cederberg@missoulian.com.

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