Saturday, July 16, 2011

Emerson Grads Remember Little Boy Who Got Lost in Maine

As told in the book Lost on a Mountain in Maine, Donn Fendler was separated in July of 1939 from his father, brother, and several friends while climbing Mount Katahdin. It took him much longer that 127 Hours to get out of this scary predicament; nine days later, the 12-year-old boy finally stumbled half-dazed towards an isolated cabin some 80 miles away.

Today, a documentary sparked by these Pine Tree State heroics premiered at the Maine International Film Festival. Fendler, now 84-years-old, was there for the Q&A along with co-directors Ryan Cook and Derek Desmond, who met while studying film at Boston's Emerson College. But the film is much more than a simple recounting of the incident. It tells the tale of how the Emerson pair went about both pursuing their subject, Fendler, and buying back the feature film rights to his story from a group of people who have done nothing with that opportunity.

On a Newport, ME front porch with Fendler

Cook (pictured, left) grew up in Maine, hiked the same mountain with his dad, and once listened to a classroom presentation made by Fendler. In the film's notes, he mentions that the 128-page book that inspired the documentary is required reading for every Maine fourth grader.

For Cook and Desmond, their 60-minuted documentary Finding Donn Fendler: Lost on a Mountain in Maine 72 Years Later is hopefully just the beginning. They are convinced that this incredible story, which was front page news back in the days before World War II, has all the makings of a dramatic feature film.

The nation, coming out of the Great Depression, became enthralled with the tale of Fendler, sort of human equivalent of the earlier Seabiscuit saga. Certainly, if the movie is made in a way that captures the country's fascination with the July 17th, 1939 hike that went horribly wrong, it could be a cinematic winner.

Cook originally wanted to make Fendler the topic of his Emerson thesis film, before discovering that the story rights were all tied up (Fendler still actively tours Maine schools each year). The documentary screens again at the Maine International Film Festival on the event's final day, July 24th.

[Finding Donn Fendler: Lost on a Mountain in Main 72 Years Later]

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