Hawthorne factory hunt featured in new documentary

The Orlando International Film Festival will feature "Candyman's Gold" documentary.

In September 2021, a Colorado family won a national treasure hunt for a Hawthorne candy factory by finding a golden ticket in Indiana. If that sounds like a plot point in a movie featuring Gene Wilder—perhaps “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”—that’s by design. 

David Klein drew inspiration from the film back in 1977 when on the Mike Douglas show. 

“As I was running down the aisle, throwing out Jelly Bellies—which I created—I said to myself, ‘someday, I want to duplicate the experience in Willy Wonka where I can give away a candy factory to somebody,’” Klein said in a phone interview. 

And next week, a documentary on the hunt—“Candyman’s Gold”—will premiere at the Orlando International Film Festival held at the Orange County Convention Center. The week-long event features documentaries, short films, narratives and feature films with 300 submissions from 40 countries.

Tickets are available to attend in person, or you can watch the documentary online during the film festival for $5. 

Klein said filming started around a year ago and the documentary will focus on the people who joined the hunt during the pandemic. More than 50,000 people participated. 

Stephanie Thirtyacres, Klein’s partner, created the riddles for the hunt, and each state featured a $5,000 prize and individual riddle. The final riddle led Andrew Maas to Kokomo, Ind. where he discovered the golden ticket. 

Photo by Suzette Cook Andrew Maas of Colorado found the golden ticket that entitled him to a candy factory in Hawthorne. during the Gold Ticket contest in September 2021.

“The best part is to see people getting reunited with their family,” Klein said. “We had one case where they had not talked to each other for seven years.”

The potential of winning the Hawthorne candy factory brought people into the hunt, but the Maas family opted out of the factory, taking a cash offer instead. 

Directed by the Zarrillo brothers, the documentary will cover the hunt and also head to film festivals in New York and California, according to Klein. 

He said people can also watch the documentary online later. In 2011, Klein participated in another documentary—“Candyman: The David Klein Story”—that featured ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic.  

The film won the Director’s Choice Award at the 2010 Rincon International Film Festival. “Candyman” also was shown at SlamDance and HotDocs.

Klein said the future of the factory in Hawthorne is still uncertain, but he loves the town and wants to take care in his choice.

“We’ve had several people wanting to rent it or buy it,” Klein said. “We’re just looking for the right use right now.”

The Orlando International Film Festival will feature another documentary produced by a UF graduate that highlights springs in North Central Florida. Read our story on that documentary, entitled “The Fellowship of the Springs.”

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David Sonne

Nicely done, David