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Local Family Cast In Film Directed By Grandson To Honor Grandfather, One Of Our Nation’s Veterans


Sometimes, career plans change. At times, for the better. Sometimes, for the worst. Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, concluded, “change is the most constant thing in life,” and when it comes to employment, the author Mark Twain wisely advises readers to, “find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Justin Koehler grew up on the family ranch in the little community of Nowlin, situated between Philip and Midland. His aspirations led him down a different path, to the beat of a different drum. He thought he had plans in place that would allow him to reach the goal of finding that so-called dream job but sometimes, things just change. For Koehler, things changed on a vast scale, greater than he ever imagined. 

Koehler attended Black Hills State University with the assistance of a basketball sports scholarship. After graduating from BHSU, he felt confident in his goal. He looked forward to becoming a sports broadcast journalist, a position that would provide him with the opportunity to embrace his love of sports and to share it with a captive audience. All of that and a paycheck to boot. It sounded like the perfect career choice for Koehler. Sometimes, career plans change, and we embark on a journey quite different than what we envisioned for our younger selves. He sincerely believes that fate steered him down another path despite his post-collegiate plans. 

The journey Koehler embarked upon began with a move to Denver. Initially, he obtained employment with High Noon Entertainment, a reality TV company that specializes in “creating unscripted, character-driven programming” for television networks, such as HGTV. At the next junction in his career, he found himself between contracts. Now, he was able to contemplate on how he wanted to direct films and movies, and with that opportunity, he shifted his focus more importantly on what he wanted to produce during that time. He shared how he felt influenced by his mentor, Chris Wheeler, who produced films for the U.S. National Parks Service and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). That helped him embrace his decision to be very selective in his choice of a company, searching for one that similarly embraced his personal genre of cinematography. He sought production companies that created films of substance, “depicting the expanse of our U.S. National Parks and presenting programs portraying the history of our country.” Eventually, he chose Tipping Point Solutions, which produces films for the military and government. Koehler serves as a creative director, director of photography in addition to being the senior editor and screenwriter for the company. His talents coupled with his vision for the end-product aligned with those of Tipping Point as they, “produce engaging, thought-provoking training films that redefine perception of traditional training videos.” 

The film industry recognized Koehler’s talents as he received the Western Heritage Award for Best Documentary for directing Floating Horses. The film received the equivalent of the “Academy Award of the Western Genre” for the documentary on the personal and professional life of Casey Tibbs, a native of South Dakota, who held multiple championship titles including induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, Colorado Springs, CO. Other films directed by Koehler include The Buffalo King, a documentary which aired on PBS and documents the life of James Scotty Philip, who is credited with being, “the man who saved the American bison”; The Mochila; and, The Kunneche Killings, a documentary about suspected serial killer” William Kunnecke. 

Even though Koehler left the ranch after graduating from college, he still comes home to visit, help during brandings in the spring and work calves in the fall. During the most recent visit, he decided to bring an idea for a short film to fruition. He wanted to direct a short film to honor our veterans, including his grandfather who was drafted during the Korean War but remained stateside during his service. The idea for the short film developed after a conversation between Justin’s mother, Cindy Koehler, and his grandfather, Theron Koehler, before he passed in 2016. Theron shared his experience of leaving home to go to basic training. His family felt immense relief after he was deferred twice since graduating high school but now his number was up. He did what a true patriot does, he answered the call of duty and took an oath to defend our nation. Theron told her that his father, George Koehler, did not say goodbye to him on the day he left the ranch to report for basic training. Instead, his father saddled up and rode away from him. He understood at the time why his father chose to ride away from him. He found a new respect for his father and felt such pride for the strength it took for his dad to take the reins, tip his head to his son in that cowboy kind of way before turning and riding away so his son wouldn’t see the tear before it rolled down to his cheek. 

Justin Koehler decided that he could honor our veterans by producing a short film that expounds on his grandfather Theron’s experiences that day when his dad chose to ride away. Justin set the film in the era of the war in Vietnam with the cast consisting of family members who portray an earlier generation of Koehlers. There is no dialogue between the family. The only dialog is from Justin, who reads a letter he wrote to give voice to his grandfather throughout the film, explaining the reasons for the somber scenes. In this short film, scenes include nine-year-old Theron played by Jace Koehler, 20-year-old Theron played by Kahler Finn, and George portrayed by his dad (Theron’s son), Michael Koehler. 

The short film debuted in time for Veteran’s Day. It is dedicated to the men and women willing to sacrifice themselves, saving their brother or sister in arms and defending this nation. To watch “Ride Away”, go to The next time you hear our national anthem or watch as our flag is raised to full staff, thank a veteran who fought, served and sacrificed to ensure these freedoms amongst so many others.

The Pioneer Review

221 E. Oak Street
Philip, SD 57567
Telephone: (605) 859-2516
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