Saving Fairmount: James Dean’s Hometown, An Interview with Filmmaker Michael Mathias

James Dean & Marcus Winslow Jr. in Fairmount, 1955. Photo by Dennis Stock.

James Dean & Marcus Winslow Jr. in Fairmount, 1955. Photo by Dennis Stock.

In tribute to the town where James Dean grew to be the great man he was, documentary filmmaker Michael Mathias pays homage the small town with great soul. The film Saving Fairmount: James Dean’s Hometown gives an in-depth look into wonderfully welcoming appeal of America’s most beloved small town.

The film can be seen at

For those would like to help preserve it with donations of any amount more information. can be found at

Are you a native of Marion, Indiana or did you move there later on?

I’ve lived here my entire life. Small town life is something that you have to learn to love. I grew up dreaming about graduating high school and heading off to a big, hip city where everyone was a self proclaimed artist. I soon realized that wasn’t the life for me. I fell in love with the small town life. This is definitely home; I’m here for the long haul.”

What first led to your interest in filmmaking? Who were some of your earliest influences?

I’ve never really considered myself a “filmmaker”. I grew up with a father who was an art teacher. He was always encouraging me to create things. I think I got my passion for the arts from my dad. I really tried to figure out what type of artist I wanted to been seen as. A painter? A designer? A photographer? A musician? I eventually said “screw it”, and now I create whatever I feel inspired to create. I’m a musician, I’m a photographer, I’m a filmmaker, I’m a designer; in my view, these all run together.


What led you to create Saving Fairmount? What was it like to have the chance to film the individuals you did? Do you feel honored to have had the chance to capture them on film?

The Saving Fairmount project started when I was approached by Jim Hayes, the president of Main Street Fairmount, which is an organization dedicated to the restoration and revitalization of downtown Fairmount, IN. Jim had told me their idea of having a small video explaining the importance of the upkeep of the town that would help motivate people to not only donate to the cause, but also get involved. Two years later and it evolved into the film Saving Fairmount; James Dean’s Hometown. It was such an honor to interview all the people that we did. I have hours of unused interview footage that, hopefully, I can release in the near future as smaller videos on the subject of Fairmount.

Are there any specific moments that stand out most in your mind from this piece of work?

There were so many great things said by so many great people; It’s really tough to choose a single moment. I will say that we got extremely lucky with the footage that we shot of Nicky Bazooka. He died shortly after the footage was shot.

Nicky Bazooka

Nicky Bazooka

Why do you think the town of Fairmount is so endearing to people worldwide?

There’s no doubt that James Dean plays a huge part in the popularity of Fairmount, however, Fairmount has somehow maintained its classic small town feel for all these years. It’s not “gimmicky”, there are no amusement parks, people live there, it’s a real town. You can get your haircut in Fairmount, buy your groceries, stop at the hardware store, shop for appliances, and more; the weird thing is that all of those businesses are locally owned. There are no Walmart or McDonalds. And of course all the other reasons you can see in the film.

What do you think it is that keeps the town very much alive in spite of its rather small size?

Honestly, it’s the people. Not just the people that live there, but also the people that come there from all around the world. Fairmount doesn’t just belong to the people inside the city limits, it also belongs to the hearts of all the wonderful people that make the trip there from half way around the world. Those people get it. They understand the small town appeal.


James Dean in Fairmount, 1955. Photo by Dennis Stock.

James Dean in Fairmount, 1955. Photo by Dennis Stock.

Do you think James Dean would be amused at the whole thing?

I’m sure he’d be super cool about it. He’d probably light up a cigarette and smile.

What would you say is the most important thing you learned from this project?

I’ve learned more historical things about Fairmount than I can count. I think the most important thing I’ve learned is the importance of community. Whether an internationally known icon was born in your small town or not, make something happen. Be creative, and stay positive. If you want your town to look clean, clean it up. If you want your town to have a festival, start planning one. The smaller the town, the easier.

The Winslow Farm

The Winslow Farm

Marcus Winslow Jr.

Marcus Winslow Jr.

What do you hope the viewer takes away from this piece?

Of course, the viewer who has already made the trip to Fairmount understands the importance of the message from the film. The person that I’m hoping it really leaves an impact on are the people that are in the position that I was in. The people that live their everyday lives in a town that’s tiny and seems to have nothing to offer. I hope they wake up, like I did, and realize that life is what you make of it.

What projects are you working on at the moment? Do you have a dream project you’d most like to bring into being?

I’m planning a photo project involving portraits of small town individuals; Possibly printing a book. I love photographing people. Maybe some type of gallery showing?

Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?

It was an honor to be able to interview all the great people that I did; They’re all pieces of the puzzle. I’d also like to thank all the people who have supported this project or donated to the cause.

Michael Mathias

Michael Mathias

2 thoughts on “Saving Fairmount: James Dean’s Hometown, An Interview with Filmmaker Michael Mathias

  1. David G says:

    Cool.keeping James Dean memory alive👍

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