Down East 2013 ©
Photo Ryan cook
Making a movie adaptation of Donn Fendler’s Lost on a Mountain in Maine has proven to be nearly as daunting as finding one’s way out of the northern wilderness.
Fendler, as almost any Mainer knows, became lost while hiking on Katahdin with family and friends in 1939. Lost on a Mountain in Maine, the riveting story of his nine-day ordeal, is required reading for Maine fourth graders, and every year Fendler, now a hale and hearty eighty-six, makes dozens of public appearances to tell his tale of survival.
His story naturally lends itself to visual interpretation, and in 2011, Fendler, with author Lynn Plourde and artist Ben Bishop, did indeed re-tell it as a graphic novel (Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness, Down East Books). But there has never been a movie version, on account of a copyright issue that stymied filmmakers for nearly twenty-five years.
With the debut of a twenty-minute prototype for a movie this summer, however, it appears this void in Maine’s cultural repertoire may soon be filled. Filmmakers Ryan Cook and Derek Desmond are showing the film short, which had its debut at the Maine International Film Festival, to potential investors. They aim to raise two million dollars to shoot a full-length feature film in Maine next summer. (View a trailer at lostonamountaininmainefilm.com.)
Why might Cook and Desmond succeed where so many others have failed? Persistence and passion. Three years ago, the two were the most recent in a long line of filmmakers who had approached Fendler only to learn that he had sold the rights to his story to a group of filmmakers whose own project never got off the ground. “I wasn’t going to let that be,” Cook recalls. “I told Donn, ‘I’m not going away.’
Cook, it should be noted, is the ultimate Donn Fendler fan. A Waterville native, he was captivated by the story as a child. “I idolized Donn the way other kids idolize movie stars and sports stars,” he says. “The idea of making a film stayed in the back of my mind through high school and college.”
Cook and Desmond, whom he met a few years ago at Emerson College, spent a year negotiating for the story rights, ultimately beating out another filmmaker who offered more money because they had Fendler’s support.
“You get with those two guys, and you can’t help but be enthusiastic,” explains Fendler, who pronounces the prototype, in which his twelve-year-old self is portrayed by Maguire Anuszewski of Winthrop, “pretty doggoned good.”
The feature-length version, Cook promises, will do Maine proud. “First and foremost, I am making this film for the people of Maine who love this story, but I also have bigger aspirations: I want it to be a flag for the state, a flag that says look how great Maine has been and still is.” — Virginia M. Wright