WATERTOWN — With golden tickets in hand, about 200 lined up Saturday morning to watch the original “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” as part of the Snowtown Film Festival.
Along with the showing of the film, based on Roald Dahl’s popular children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” moviegoers were treated to a rare appearance by the former child actor Peter Ostrum.
Now a large-animal veterinarian with Countryside Veterinary Clinic in Lowville, Dr. Ostrum played Charlie Bucket in the 1971 film alongside costars Gene Wilder and Jack Albertson.
As the opening credits played, the audience applauded as Dr. Ostrum’s name appeared.
He watched the 90-minute movie, seated next to Loretta M. Lepkowski, his wife of 30 years, in the auditorium of the Dulles State Office Building. He said, prior to the show, that he had accepted the invitation since “it’s in my backyard — it’s become a popular event in January and I like to support local events.”
Ms. Lepkowski said when they met, she had never seen the film and did not know Mr. Ostrum had acted in it.
“Once I saw it, I realized — ‘Wow, he had a major part,’” said Ms. Lepkowski.
She said their children, Helenka and Leif, took the knowledge of their father’s starring role in stride.
“They knew their father as a veterinarian — as a hard worker,” said Ms. Lepkowski, noting their son took to the stage for a couple of lead roles in South Lewis Central School musicals.
Following the showing, a question-and-answer session was held. Dr. Ostrum said one of the highlights of acting in the film was spending five months in Munich, Germany, likening it to being a foreign exchange student.
“Being able to travel in Europe at age 12 was pretty neat,” he said, noting it was two years before the 1972 Olympic Games and he was witness to the construction of the Olympic park.
In answer to questions from children, he said that no, the river really was not made of chocolate; the boat was really “on a track like a ride at Disney,” and he “flew” wearing a harness, attached by piano wire to ropes hoisted by three men.
The former child actor said he had kept a clap stick from the movie set and his mother had kept his script. He said actress Julie Dawn Cole, who played Veruca Salt, kept an “Everlasting Gobstopper.”
“It was made of papier mache, so she had to have it restored,” he said. “She sold it to send her daughter to medical school.”
He told a child in the audience that his schooling was handled through a tutor.
“My assignments were sent over and I had to have school for a total of three hours each day, but it was 15 minutes here, sometimes a half hour or hour,” said Dr. Ostrum.
Luciano Guarino, 12, of Watertown, himself an actor in one of the films featured in the festival, “Folklore & Frost,” asked how it felt to watch the film and talk about it.
“It was absolutely fun to relive the memories from when I was 12,” said Dr. Ostrum. “And people ask great questions.”
“Do you get kickback from the showings on regular TV?” asked staff member Laura M. Yott. Dr. Ostrum replied he receives royalties of $8 to $9 every three months or so.
The adults present related the impact the actor-turned-veterinarian had on them.
“I knew you as Dr. Ostrum before I knew you as Charlie,” said Jared Wells of Watertown, who previously had a farm in Lowville. “This was the first time I saw the film. You talked about Gene Wilder being very professional. You are a primo professional. It’s been a pleasure to hear you speak.”
Dr. Ostrum replied he had a good mentor in Mr. Wilder and urged young adults to seek out someone in a profession to which they aspire who can “believe in you and help guide you.”
He said he had kept in contact with the film’s dialogue coach, who had a “huge impact on my life — he flipped a switch for me.”
Dr. Ostrum admitted there were times he missed acting but felt he made the right choice since it is difficult to make the transition from child actor to adult actor. He also found acting to be a “long, tedious process — hurry up and wait.” He said the hour-and-a-half-long movie took five months to film.
However, he said he found the process of making a film intriguing.
“It’s amazing how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together,” he said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to see it was all worthwhile. Almost 50 years later, people are still interested.”
He said his favorite scenes of the movie were ones he was not involved in, like the one with a newscaster saying, “There are more important things in life but I can’t think of any,” or the one with a lady whose husband is kidnapped and she wants time to think about giving up her case of chocolate bars.
He also enjoyed the scenes with Mr. Wilder.
“I’m not a singer or dancer and, in the end, they decreased my singing parts,” he said, noting Mr. Wilder was “very patient with me.”
Between high school and college he tested the waters of continuing with acting and auditioned for a role in “Equus.”
“I didn’t get the role,” he said. “If I had, maybe my life would have gone in a different direction.”
“You’ve been an icon since you were a kid,” said Kathleen Chevier of Carthage. “I don’t think you know what you did for people like me in the community theater. I don’t think you know the impact you’ve had on people’s lives.”
Dr. Ostrum said in his youth he did not like talking about his acting but has learned to appreciate what the film means to others. He said he now is proud to have been part of it and is happy with the film.
He said when the film was first released it was met with lukewarm reviews and it wasn’t until it was re-released in video format that its popularity grew.
“Now, you can’t kill the thing,” he said, noting that references to the film often come up, such as “he won the golden ticket.”
“It’s bigger than the people in it,” he said.
The commentator for the Q&A session, Donald Brown, said at the conclusion that Dr. Ostrum was true to the character Charlie Bucket — a good, genuine person.
During the autograph session, Shea Brown, 12, of Stanley, said it was “awesome” to attend the filming. Shea will be playing an Oompa Loompa in a middle school production of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Jr.”
“It was pretty cool,” she said of viewing the film and meeting Dr. Ostrum. “My friend was jealous she couldn’t come.”
Shea had Dr. Ostrum sign her sketchbook, where she plans to draw the logo for the junior version of the play and give it to her director.
The showing of the iconic movie was only part of the two-day festival, which began Friday night with a red carpet reception featuring the cover band, The List, and the screening of “Long Time Running,” a profile of Canadian rock band, The Tragically Hip.
The fourth annual film festival featured 40 films in total, including short comedies, romances and thrillers.
“It is an unique environment which brings something new to the north country,” said Marcus M. Knapp, one of the event’s organizers.