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A look at Preston 10 years after 'Napoleon Dynamite'

By Tyler Berg
Published On: Aug 06 2014 08:20:56 AM CDT
Updated On: Jun 27 2014 11:19:49 AM CDT

It's been 10 years since Napoleon Dynamite was released on the big screen. Tyler Berg visits Preston to take a look how the movie has changed the town.

PRESTON, Idaho -

Can you believe it's been 10 years since "Napoleon Dynamite" was released? The $400,000 budget film grossed more than $44 million and went on to become a cult classic. Not only did the film bring its lead actor and director fame, but it put the small town of Preston, Idaho, on the map.

When it comes to the movie and Preston, where the film was set and shot, it's hard to start anywhere but the high school. The vibrant, colorful lockers that line the school's hallways were the backdrop to several memorable scenes. If you can believe it, Principal Jeff Lords said the lockers were almost replaced in the last decade.

"Obviously, with 'Napoleon Dynamite' being filmed it's a big part of the school, it's a big part of the community," said Lords. "So they decided to leave them for the time being."

Although the lockers and the auditorium Napoleon graced his moves in are a big draw to tourists, there's an even more obvious stop. Ten years later, people still go to the office window looking for one thing: chapstick.

At Preston High School, the legacy of the man responsible for all of the attention lives on.

The film's director, Preston High graduate Jared Hess, made a name for not only himself, but the whole city of Preston. Nobody knows the movie's impact quite like Rhonda Gregersen and the folks at The Preston Citizen.

"There's people that come all summer long," said Gregersen. "I've been really surprised after 10 years."

The local newspaper sells all kinds of shirts and memorabilia, but the biggest seller is a map featuring all of the filming locations. The map takes visitors down a gravel road to Napoleon's house, those mountains Uncle Rico could throw a football over and of course, that distinct stucco home Pedro lived in.

Clifford Smith has lived in Pedro's home for nearly two years.

"Still people come by just to take pictures," said Smith. "We've had them from everywhere."

Smith said he just can't escape the name Pedro.

"School buses will drive by, they'll honk and the kids will be hollering out the window, 'Hey Pedro!' so it's kind of funny," said Smith.

Sites aren't the only thing to see in the small town. It won't take long before you run into a few locals who were in the movie.

Jamen Gunnell actually had the first line of the film. Then 10 years old, Gunnel asked "What are you gonna do today, Napoleon?" To which Napoleon famously responds, "Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh!"

"A lot of them don't believe me," said Gunnell. "They're like 'whatever,' and I'm like, 'OK, go watch it,' they go watch it and they're actually, 'Holy cow that is you!'"

Although much has stayed the same in Preston, arguably no one has seen more change than Gunnell. In the last decade, he has graduated, served a mission in Mexico and even got engaged to his fiance Kayla. But, no matter how much time passes, Gunnell is engrained in one of the most popular films of his generation.

Patrick Zook, another local in the film, actually owned what became known as Rex Kwon Do. Although his dojo has since shut down, Zook still sells the shirts, flag pants, and do-rags to Halloween goers every year.

"From August to October I sell probably 50 to 60 Rex Kwon Do outfits," said Zook.

Not everyone in Preston is sold on the movie, though.

"People around here, they either love the movie or they hate it," said Preston native Julie Knudson.

Knudson said one thing is for sure.

"I think it puts us on the map, I really do," said Knudson. "I think people come to Preston because that's where Napoleon Dynamite was from."

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