Chaos was in the air Thursday night in Doylestown. About 5:30, two hours before a locally produced film about a runaway slave, The North Star, was set to premiere at the County Theater, the star and director were missing.
The star, former Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, was stuck in traffic. He was supposed to greet fans and media at Rob's Bar before heading down State Street in a horse and buggy, but was behind schedule.
The director, Thomas Phillips, who wrote the script and shot the movie in his home county of Bucks, faced a bigger predicament. He was in civil court, defending against an attempt by two of the film's producers to block the premiere. The proceedings - which began at 11:15 a.m. - had bled into the evening, threatening his ability to attend the screening whatever the verdict.
The absence of the film's two most recognizable figures was noticeable at a red-carpet event, hosted by the Doylestown Historical Society, that started at 4:30. But about 5:45, Trotter whooshed into town with an entourage of local high school students.
In a gray suit, purple tie, and sunglasses, Trotter, who played the lead role of runaway slave Benjamin "Big Ben" Jones, happily greeted customers, passersby, and reporters.
Briefly discussing his role in the film, his first dramatic undertaking, Trotter said he was nervous.
"Any time you try something new, something out of your comfort zone, it's a little nerve-racking," he said. "But with a little pushing and encouragement, I decided to give it a shot."
He compared the intensity needed for football and acting, saying both required him to "be in the zone," and acknowledged the level of dedication needed to successfully complete the role.
"The long hours, the physical nature of it, and the preparation, that's pretty much the same" as football, he said.
He then hopped into the white horse-drawn carriage and rode to the theater with his wife.
Phillips, meanwhile, was still in court.
The men suing him, Nathan File and Jesse James Jackson, were seeking an injunction against him and the executive producer, Dave DeLellis. Throughout the afternoon, File and Jackson argued that they had been cut out of postproduction and that as a result, the film's quality was below par. Screening it, they argued, could turn audiences away, scare off distributors, and damage their reputations.
The proceedings lasted well into the red-carpet celebration. Around 6:15, when the film's publicist, LisaBeth Weber, was asked outside the theater whether the show would go on, her reply was brief.
"I got nothing," she said.
Ten minutes later, the verdict was announced.
"There will be no injunction granted," Melissa Cornick, a member of the Doylestown Historical Society, declared over a loudspeaker. "The film will be shown."
About 20 minutes after that, Phillips arrived, sporting a fresh suit that he had saved for after court.
"I'm relieved," he said. "Very relieved. I thought the truth would come out, but in court, you don't know sometimes."
He then began dividing up tickets for his family and friends, answering phone calls from loved ones, and posing for pictures with cast members underneath the marquee.
Just as any director would before a typical premiere.