(This column contains opinion.)
An excitement stirred in the air on Aug. 23 as Augusta celebrated the screening of The Hill at the Miller Theater.
Based on the true story of Rickey Hill, who defied the odds to live out his dream and play professional baseball in the Montreal Expo’s farm league for four years despite physical challenges, The Hill was shot entirely in the Augusta area.
The last time I remember the feeling of electricity in the atmosphere at the Miller was in January 2018 when Tony Award-winner Sutton Foster took the stage to welcome guests back into the theater after its longtime renovation.
The buzz surrounding that night had to do with a dream being fulfilled as the Miller sat vacant for so many years, and it had finally been restored.
And on Aug. 23, it was another night of a longtime dream being realized as Jeff Celentano saw the story he’d worked on for 17 years finally make it to the big screen.
“I was back there crying at moments I’ve cried at forever,” Celentano said after the screening during a Q&A.
Celentano knew it was no ordinary screening. He said he would probably go to another theater and see it Friday night, but even if people came up afterwards and told him how much they enjoyed it, it wouldn’t feel like it did in Augusta because there’s something special about the town and its people.
“Augusta is one of my favorite towns,” he said. “I’m shooting my next movie here also.”
With the rest of the packed house, I sat in the back of the theater and watched the movie. I’d been looking forward to seeing it since I first met Rickey Hill on the movie set in a downtown Augusta neighborhood in December 2021. I’d done my research and his story sounded incredible.
There’s a scene in the film when Hill’s mother played by Joelle Carter, who attended Augusta University before pursuing her acting and modeling career, tells about her son’s conditions. It’s an emotional one that drives home the absolute improbability of Hill ever playing baseball at a recreational level, much less a professional one.
My interest piqued again in July, when I spoke with Celentano and Warren Ostergard, the film’s producer, and then saw the trailer, which brought me to tears. You can read that article here.
There’s something about underdog stories that get me and the idea that something insurmountable can be accomplished with faith, hope and heart.
Heart is an important word when describing the film. Ostergard used it during the Q&A and said not a lot of films have it anymore. And he’s right, the film has lots of it with an expertly crafted sports-themed script that Angelo Pizzo who wrote Hoosiers and Rudy knows how to do so well. The late Scott Marshall Smith co-wrote the script.
You feel little Rickey’s pain when he’s made fun of because of the braces on his legs, you have hope that everything is going to work out even when it looks bleak.
There are moments that will make you smile and laugh, but there are moments that you might find yourself crying. And there are moments of joy. During Wednesday’s screening, the audience erupted in applause in the movie’s pivotal scene toward the end as though they were at the baseball field watching in the stands.
And a fun part of this film was trying to spot familiar locations in Augusta — such as Hildebrandt’s, the Exchange Club Fairgrounds and Lake Olmstead Stadium.
All I could think as I sat watching the film was that my mother had to see it. A diehard baseball fan with a love for movies with heart, she would love it. And we’re making plans for that this weekend.
Celentano said he hopes that others will go to the theater to see it this weekend as well. Its official release date is Aug. 25, but it’s in theaters starting Aug. 24. People shouldn’t wait to see it, he said, because the better it performs at the box office early, the longer it will stay in theaters.
It’s showing at Regal Augusta Exchange, Riverwatch Cinemas and Evans Cinemas.
Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at email@example.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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