Six decades after its publication, The Iron Orchard will finally have its day at the movies. The cinematic adaptation of Edmund Van Zandt’s novel, which we wrote about in our January issue, will premiere this Saturday, March 5th, at the Dallas International Film Festival.
In 1967, Van Zandt’s debut novel about a young man who seeks his fortune in the West Texas oil fields shared the Texas Institute of Letters fiction award with Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show. At the time, many thought both books were destined to become classics. But while McMurtry’s tale was made into an Oscar-winning film in 1971 and remains a fixture of the Texas canon, Van Zandt’s book went out of print. The Iron Orchard may have been completely lost to time had it not been for an unlikely group of literary saviors.
Referred to as “the wildcatter’s Bible,” the book has remained a cult favorite among the wheeling-and-dealing oilmen of the Permian Basin. It is largely thanks to them (and their deep pockets) that the film was made.
Director Ty Roberts, a Midland native, was a natural choice to helm the project. He chose to shoot the entire movie in Texas, using Big Spring’s Hotel Settles and the sprawling land surrounding the town as his primary locations. Out on the West Texas plains, the cast and crew endured hail storms, rattlesnakes, and scorching temperatures.
Roberts also placed special attention on recreating the rig scenes as realistically as possible. For the scene depicted in the clip below, which shows the moment the story’s protagonist Jim McNeely, portrayed by Lane Garrison, watches his first wildcat well come roaring in, Roberts recruited real roughnecks and used authentic period-specific equipment to drill a well onsite. (Don’t worry, the liquid that comes gurgling out of the earth is earth-friendly faux petroleum.)
The world-premiere screening will be followed by a party at the Longhorn Ballroom with live music by Deryl Dodd. Entry to both events is free to DIFF ticket-holders and can also be purchased individually.(A second screening will be held on Monday.)