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Lights, Camera, Beer!
Spotlight Productions President Matt Embry, left, works on a scene with actor Josh Pender Tuesday, Sept. 10 in the alleyway outside the Monroe Cheese Corp building in downtown Monroe. The crew is shooting a short film about the 1931 kidnapping of Fred Blumer, planned for release before Cheese Days 2014. (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)
MONROE - A film crew is in town this week shooting a short docudrama about Monroe's "hush-hush" link to the Chicago mafia of the 1930s.

The project dramatizes the 1931 kidnapping in Monroe of Fred Blumer, maker of Blumer's Golden Glow Near Beer during Prohibition. At the time, he owned what is now Minhas Craft Brewery.

Current owners and siblings Ravinder and Manjit Minhas are planning to have the 10-to-12 minute film ready in time for Cheese Days 2014. It will be screened during brewery tours. In keeping with the film's Prohibition setting, the Minhas Distillery will be releasing two new brands around the same time, Blumer's Moonshine and Blumer's Apple Pie Moonshine.

The crew is wrapping up the shoot this Saturday, Sept. 14, in time for Minhas to host its all-day Oktoberfest, a free event with live music, beer on tap and Monroe Lions Club food vendors.

The spark for the film originates with Moni Minhas, father of Ravinder and Manjit. His interest in the history of brewery, the oldest in the Midwest and second oldest nationwide, started while the Minhas family was compiling a book on the topic.

The legend of Fred Blumer's kidnapping intrigued him. The details of the kidnapping, passed down locally as lore, seemed sketchy.

"For the longest time, it bothered me that the story of him being kidnapped was so hush-hush," said Minhas, who is in Monroe with his children this week while the film is shot. The family lives in Calgary, Canada.

So he started investigating: "Let me see what I can find."

He hired a local researcher to sift through decades of old newspaper microfiche and subscribed to online newspaper archives going back 150 years.

"I started to find a pattern," he said. The Blumer kidnapping made headlines internationally, "but not here, because (Blumer) was very, very hush about it."

More clues emerged that the kidnapping was more than the local papers made it: Blumer lived a posh life, had his phone tapped by Monroe police, hung out in Chicago and, suspiciously, went out of business right when beer became legal.

That's when Minhas discovered the "juicy part of the story" - that Blumer tangled in shady dealings and was kidnapped by Chicago mobsters.

Stand By, Rolling, Action!

From all this research, about 100 hours of reading, Minhas wrote a movie script.

Handily, his kids also own a film company in Calgary, Spotlight Productions. The company shoots all of Minhas Craft Brewery's commercials, as well as about 200 hours of Canadian television annually, from documentaries and educational programming to cooking shows and a Canadian version of "Cops."

The Spotlight crew polished Minhas' script and joined the family in Monroe this week to shoot it, using local actors and costumes from the Monroe Theatre Guild. Local actors include Rick Maliszewski, Josh Pender and Sheri Novak, plus the brewery's brewmaster Kris Kalav and president Gary Olson.

"This movie experience has been really cool," said Manjit Minhas. "This movie is celebrating the history of the brewery."

Matt Embry, president of Spotlight, said Monroe has been an easy city to work in, with access to plenty of period cars, props, costumes and locations. It's the company's first American shoot.

On Wednesday morning, Sept. 10, Embry and his crew were filming a scene inside the abandoned Monroe Cheese Corp office building downtown. Monroe Cheese Corp shut down suddenly in 2005, and the offices haven't been touched since employees walked out.

Papers, coffee cups and a 2005 calendar are collecting dust exactly as they were left. It's an eerie atmosphere, but it works for a mobster flick. An upstairs corner was cleared for the scene.

Two actors in bowler hats sat at a table under a single bulb of light, smoking and discussing Blumer's ransom.

Embry said he's happy to have discovered the abandoned space.

"We can pretty much build any set we want in here. It's almost a mini soundstage," he said.

Even the shortcomings are working in his favor. Without electricity or air-conditioning, the rooms got brutally hot during this week's heat wave.

"The heat really adds to the drama. The actors are perspiring," he said. "It is kind of a high-stakes show."