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Film chronicles train depot restoration

Artwork from poster for “Back on Track,” a film about restoring the Waupaca train depot that will premiere at the Gerold Opera House in Weyauwega. Submitted image

Premieres at Gerold Opera House

By James Card

A film about a Waupaca landmark and the man who restored it will premiere at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 18, at the historic Gerold Opera House in Weyauwega.

“Back on Track: Rebuilding the Waupaca Depot” has local written all over it. Director Max Hauser grew up in Iola, studied at UW-Oshkosh and later worked on a variety of films.

“I’ve always loved that venue and the building itself and the genuineness of it all,” said Hauser. “If there was one place that I could pick in Wisconsin, that’s where I would do it. And it sounds great in there.”

The film follows the story of Mike Kirk, a train enthusiast and history buff, who was determined to restore the long-abandoned train depot that is located on 525 Oak St. The project took 24 years and it is now a landmark historical site in Waupaca.

The film chronicles Kirk’s grit to finish the project and also delves into the history of the community and how railroads shaped the country in the early years of America.

“I could do a five-hour miniseries on this topic. It was hard to figure out how to cut it down to an hour,” said Hauser.

The film features modern footage as well as archival footage of the horrid state the depot was in when Kirk started the restoration. It also includes personal photos and home movies.

Hauser graduated from the University of Wisocnsin-Oshkosh in 2017. From there, his work experience ranges far.

He started a rock documentary on the nomadic singer-songwriter Brett Newski of Milwaukee as he traveled with him all over the world: Vietnam, Japan, Belize, Honduras and Mexico.

In between these jaunts, he worked as a camera operator with Conscious Content, a media company that produces films on subjects that affect humanity. He worked on feature film documentaries about animal shelters, PTSD and clean water.

Meanwhile in 2018, Emmy award-winning producer Ron Scott toured the train depot, was intrigued by Kirk’s story and proposed to Hauser an opportunity for him to direct a film about it. Hauser shot some initial interviews and realized the story was much deeper than he expected. As Covid-19 emerged, the pandemic put the project on layaway.

Hauser kept at the project and Kirk shared with him a vast archive of historical information about the depot and Waupaca history. As the pandemic wanted, Hauser continued to make trips to Waupaca and shoot more footage.

Tickets are on a sale at wegaarts.org. For those unable to make it to the premiere, Hauser expects the film to be shown at a few other locations in Wisconsin and also he hopes it will be included in this year’s Weyauwega Film Festival held in November.

Eventually the film will be available to be streamed online and Hauser is in talks with a company to make DVDs of the film.

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