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Top billing: NM filmmakers’ ‘Burning Bodhi’ featured in Austin festival

Two New Mexico filmmakers, one a University of New Mexico professor, are celebrating a milestone involving a feature film they spent five years creating, and then filmed in their neighborhood, Albuquerque’s South Valley.

“Burning Bohdi,” a movie about a group of millennials dealing with the death of a high school classmate, is the centerpiece film today at the Austin Film Festival.

Kaley Cuoco stars as Katy in the independent film, “Burning Bohdi.” The movie was filmed in New Mexico and is featured as the showcase film at the Austin Film Festival.

Kaley Cuoco stars as Katy in the independent film, “Burning Bohdi.” The movie was filmed in New Mexico and is featured as the showcase film at the Austin Film Festival.

One of the featured actors is Kaley Cuoco, who has become famous as Penny on the TV series “The Big Bang Theory.” Another is Cody Horn, who starred in “Magic Mike.”

“Having the film be part of the festival is a great opportunity,” said Marshall Bear. “We aren’t in the festival competition. We are a featured film. It’s humbling to see this happen.”

Matthew McDuffie, a professor of practice in screenwriting at UNM, wrote and directed the film, and Bear served as the film’s producer.

The film follows a group of lifelong friends who stumble back home after high school when word goes out on Facebook that the most popular among them has died. The reunion stirs up sticky feelings of love, longing and regret, and the novelty of forgiveness, mortality and gratitude.

In addition to Cuoco and Horn, the film stars Landon Liboiron, Sasha Peiterse, Andy Buckley, Christopher Atwood and Virginia Madsen.

McDuffie says the film captures the vulnerability of this group.

“This is the first real loss for the group,” McDuffie says. “They are in their 20s and still figuring out who they are as people. It’s a story that a lot of people can relate to.”

The film shot for 18 days in the South Valley. Two of those days were done off site at locations around the city.

“We were able to contain the entire shoot to our neighborhood,” Bear says. “That saved us a lot of money by not having to move all of our gear to different locations.”

Bear and McDuffie are proud of the film because it tells an interesting story. In fact, it was the story and the character of Katy that attracted Cuoco to the film.

The duo knew they needed a “big name” to attach themselves to the film. After sending it to Cuoco’s team, she showed interest and then the production hit a snag and stalled for a bit.

When Bear and McDuffie got the production rolling again, they had to meet with Cuoco to see if she was still interested. Cuoco had three weeks off last summer from her filming on “The Big Bang Theory.”

“We got her for seven days,” McDuffie says. “She immediately came on set ready to work. The role was something very different for her and she became Katy. It was incredible to see her transformation.”

Cuoco wasn’t the only one who was drawn to the script. Horn, who starred in “Magic Mike,” was one of the first actors to read the script and helped champion the effort to get it made.

“Cody knew there would be a great actor response to the script,” McDuffie says. “There aren’t many roles out there for millennials to actually play their age. It was different and Cody recognized it.”

McDuffie and Bear completed the film on a very low budget and the pair are proud to be part of the Austin Film Festival. The film has been submitted to other film festivals and the pair is hoping to gain distribution and a theatrical release for the film.

“This is known as the writer’s film festival,” Bear says. “It’s amazing that we are part of it and can’t wait for the world to see the film. It’s a New Mexico-made film and represents the work we can do here in the state. Everyone pulled together to make the film happen and it’s great to have it ready to be seen.”