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Iconic Phoenix restaurant Durant’s stars in Arizona State University grad’s new film

PHOENIX — With its dim lights, red leather seats, fancy wallpaper, and old-school kitchen entrance, Durant’s in Phoenix has proven itself as the perfect setting for an Arizona State University graduate’s 1950s mob movie.

Local filmmaker Travis Mills said he decided to use the restaurant as the setting to his new film, Durant’s Never Closes, because it has been a Phoenix landmark since 1950.

“I would ask any filmmaker how you could walk inside Durant’s and not be inspired, cinematically,” Mills said.

The restaurant had already inspired a book and a play, but Mills said his screenplay takes a different tack, focusing on the unique character of Jack Durant, who died in the 1980s.

“There’s so much complexity in this one man,” he said. “He is incredibly loyal to his people, but at the same time he can be a real jerk.”

Using money raised on crowdfunding site Kickstarter and private investors, the ASU film school graduate was able to attract Tom Sizemore, Peter Bogdanovich and soap opera actress Michelle Stafford, but the restaurant itself is also a star of Durant’s Never Closes.

“It’s really one of the only of its kind left, because most of the places like that have been mowed down and replaced by a Walgreens,” he said. “It’s really sad that we forget our past in Phoenix and that we don’t celebrate it.”

Mills said he hopes the movie encourages other filmmakers and story tellers to explore Phoenix history and take advantage of it. Mill said his company, Running Wild Films, is focused on building a sustainable film movement in Arizona.

“There’s a lot of great stories here,” Mills said.

Durant’s Never Closes is playing this week at Harkin’s Shea 14. Mills said he decided to handle the domestic distribution himself, contracting with local independent theaters around the country.

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