West Bend Graduate Honored at Film Festival

Amber DeRuyter stars in the independent film ‘Lonesome’

By Hasti Ghasemivaghar, Current Staff

After decades performing on area stages, Amber DeRuyter has now been recognized for a performance on the silver screen.

DeRuyter, a West Bend West High School graduate, won the runner-up award for best supporting actress for her role in the independent movie “Lonesome” on Jan. 16 at a film festival hosted by MLC Productions in Little Rock, Arkansas. The movie, which was made in Wisconsin, will also screen for audiences at three more festivals in coming weeks, including the virtual Cinema on the Bayou Festival which opens today.

DeRuyter earned the award for playing Roxie, a free-spirited Milwaukee woman swept up in a whirlwind beach romance with a “lonely city dweller” named Guy.

“It was just a total honor to be nominated,” DeRuyter said. “Another actress nominated in the same category was Jane Kaczmarek, who played the mother in the TV show ‘Malcolm in the Middle.’ It was totally unreal to be nominated alongside a Hollywood actress. Just amazing the opportunities this film has given me. So thankful.”

Written and directed by Milwaukee-based filmmaker Tony K. Hall, “Lonesome” is a modernized version of a 1928 silent comedy but keeps the black-and-white cinematography. The movie is a mixture of classic Hollywood, New Wave cinema and silent film.

Amber DeRuyter on the last day of shooting “Lonesome.” Photo courtesy of DeRuyter.

It was filmed in 16 days over the course of 26 months, from Oct. 2018 to Dec. 2020. The movie, which was shot on the streets of Milwaukee on a shoestring budget, was partially delayed due to the COVID-19 shutdown and restrictions.

Although the cast and crew were unpaid, everyone was motivated to put out their best work.

“It was more of a passion project,” DeRuyter said of the movie, which continues to make the festival rounds and won best feature at the December 2021 Black & White Film Festival in Toronto.

DeRuyter has had a passion for acting from an early age and has been an active member of the local theater scene since she was 10 years old. After graduating from West High in 2005, she attended the University of Milwaukee at Washington County and did a couple of shows at the campus Theatre on a Hill. Later, she attended the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse. During her college career, she studied event programming, coordination and recreational management.

Amber DeRuyter (center) in a production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Photo courtesy of DeRuyter.

She currently resides in Kewaskum and works at the West Bend Community Memorial Library as the teen programmer. In her free time, she maintains a connection to the area theater community. In recent years she has performed with Musical Masquers and Slinger’s Kettle Moraine Playhouse in productions of “Chicago,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “Arsenic and Old Lace” and “Blind Dating at Happy Hour,” the first original script done at the Kettle Moraine Playhouse when it first opened.

Prior to working at the library, DeRuyter worked at a bank in the mortgage department, where she became friends with Tony K. Hall, the director of “Lonesome.”

After Hall saw DeRuyter in the stage play “Arsenic and Old Lace,” he knew she would be a perfect fit for Roxie. Since “Lonesome” is a throwback to the original silent movie, Hall was looking for someone who was used to acting with their hands and face, someone who had more experience in stage plays than films.

“Amber was a natural in that role,” Hall said. “I knew that she would bring the utmost effort to a really challenging project, all the while maintaining a cool and fun demeanor while collaborating with all the other team members necessary to complete a film.”

Amber DeRuyter with her husband Aaron and son Hudson. Photo courtesy of DeRuyter.

Since the start of the “Lonesome” project, DeRuyter has not participated in a theater show and has now decided to take a break and focus on her role as a teen programmer at the library as well as spending time with her son. One of her upcoming projects is the Feb. 9 art gallery that will display high school students’ art work and is open to the community.

“Lonesome” is going to be part of the Cinema on the Bayou Festival, the second largest festival in Louisiana, screening virtually from Jan. 26 through Feb. 2. The movie will also have a live presentation at the Green Bay International Film Festival on Feb. 24 and the Beloit International Film Festival, which takes place both virtually and live from Feb. 26 to March 6 depending on the dates. Tickets can be bought online.

(Top image is a still from “Lonesome,” courtesy of the production.)

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