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AP Photo/Jeff Gentner Members involved with the movie "We Are Marshall" from left, former Marshall coach Red Dawson, screenwriter Jamie Linden, producer Basil Iwanyk, actor Anthony Mackie, actress Kate Mara, actors Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, Arlen Escarpeta, director McG, former Marshall coach Jack Lengyel and former Marshall quarterback Reggie Oliver all pose for a photo at the movie premiere of "We Are Marshall" at the Keith-Albee Theater in downtown Huntington, W.Va., Tuesday, Dec 12. 2006.

HUNTINGTON -- The light bulbs had been replaced. Everything had been polished and cleaned, and it looked like it may have been in the 1930s. An organist in the orchestra pit was playing.

The Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center was at its best, just like many Tri-State community members who attended the world premiere of "We Are Marshall" on Tuesday night.

Jeanne Harmon, a Huntington resident and Marshall graduate, was excited for her first big movie premiere.

"I think it's pretty exciting something like this is going on in our town," Harmon said as she stood in her floor-length, black gown. "We're good friends with Red Dawson, so we're looking forward to seeing his story, too."

Everybody there knew how the movie would end, but watching the personal story of the Marshall University plane crash that killed 75 people still packed the historic theater.

The theater was filled with celebrities like Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox and the movie's director, McG, but the real stars Tuesday night were the football players and community members who died in the 1970 crash.

Moviegoers were all here to remember those who died and to show respect for the people who helped the football program recover from the devastating loss.

Lera Van Meter, a lawyer from Charleston, was more excited to see the film than to catch a glimpse at stars like Fox and McConaughey.

"I'm not much of a star-gazer," she said.

It was Van Meter's first time to the Keith-Albee since it had been remodeled, and she remarked on how beautiful the theater looked.

Other people hoped to revel in the chance to hang out with celebrities -- even for just one night.

Kacee Thompson already had butterflies, long before the last of the crowd arrived and the lights went down to start the movie, making her glad this wasn't an everyday occurrence.

"I'm really nervous. There are a lot of important people here," she said. "I'm glad I'm not famous. I'm nervous already."

The film was introduced by Keith Spears, Marshall University vice president of communications, and Gov. Joe Manchin.

"I have the chance to represent the greatest people in the nation, and now the whole world will know it," Manchin said.

Members of the 1971 team were recognized. They stood and received a standing ovation. That courtesy was extended to McG, who then took the stage.

"We wanted to tell this story honorably, with respect, but most importantly, we wanted to tell the truth," McG said. He then brought the film's stars onto the stage, including Kate Mara, Arlen Escarpeta, Anthony Mackie, McConaughey and Fox.

As McG introduced the stars, he mentioned his decision behind casting each of them. He said he was drawn to McConaughey by the volunteer work he did in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina.

When the movie started, it was clear that it was powerful. The frequent applause drowned out scenes of the film especially during the Young Herd's triumphant moments.

After months of hard work restoring the Keith-Albee, the one glitch of the night at the beloved, historic theater was the brief presence of a bat. It flew across the movie screen, eliciting a few squeals, but in the end not having a major impact on the viewing.

After the film came the biggest cheers, reserved for McConaughey, Fox and the real-life coaches Red Dawson and Jack Lengyel, who addressed the audience afterward.

Lengyel talked about the successes of the football program and gave credit to the coaches who came after him. In addition to echoing some of the movie's themes of survival and perseverance, McConaughey called "We Are Marshall" the most gratifying work experience of his life.

Fox said, "It's been an amazing experience for these past seven months. I just thank this entire community for welcoming me. It's your story, and I hope you feel like we told it well."

An obviously moved Dawson had few words to suit the occasion.

"What an honor. That's all I can say," he told the audience. "What an honor."

 

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