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Donn Fendler documentary showing in Newport


Donn Fendler seen at his summer residence on Sebasticook Lake in Newport in July 2009.

By Alex Barber, BDN Staff

Posted Oct. 19, 2011, at 5:17 p.m.
NEWPORT, Maine — Even after 72 years, the story of a boy lost for nine days on Mount Katahdin still captivates readers.

“Lost on a Mountain in Maine,” the true story about 12-year-old Donn Fendler, is standard reading material for young students. Now, a film documenting Fendler’s story in his own words and the journey of two filmmakers in getting the rights to his story will be shown in Fendler’s hometown of Newport.

The 90-minute film, “Finding Donn Fendler: Lost on a Mountain in Maine, 72 Years Later,” will be shown at the Newport Cultural Center at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21.

Free tickets are still available at the Newport Cultural Center and at the town office. Guests are asked to bring a nonperishable food item for donation. There are only 80 seats available.

The film tells Fendler’s story of survival on the mountain in Baxter State Park and also the story of getting the rights to make a movie. Fendler did not own the rights to his own story.

Steven Zaitz, Albert Ames and Charlie Adams bought the rights to Fendler’s story in the hopes of making a movie. After 20 years of unsuccessful attempts, the trio finally awarded the rights to two young Emerson College graduates.

Ryan Cook of Waterville and Derek Desmond of Shelburne, N.H., both 25 and working in the Boston film industry, befriended Fendler and attempted to get Fendler his rights back.

“That’s what the documentary was about,” said Cook. “It’s his story through his own words also weaved in our story of meeting him and getting his rights back.”

Both Cook and Fendler will be attending the showing at the Newport Cultural Center and will field questions after the film.

The film has been shown three times. It premiered at the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville in July, and also played at the Concord, N.H., Film Festival and the Camden International Film Festival.

However, Cook said, it’s special to have the film seen by Fendler’s friends and neighbors.

“It means a lot because Donn knows a lot of people across the state,” said Cook.

“Everywhere he goes people recognize him. When you go to his hometown, people don’t see the famous guy, they just know him as ‘Donn.’ They just say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? How are you feeling?’”

Cook and Desmond never intended to do a documentary, but the journey in getting the rights back to Fendler was too good to pass up.

“We just started filming Donn and ourselves for our own records,” said Cook. “In the end, the guys who owned the rights believed in us much more [than other filmmakers]. There was all these ups and downs of this battle. We had to make this into a documentary.”

Cook said this is only the beginning. He and Desmond plan on making a trailer to show to film producers to try to get a Hollywood-style film done of Fendler’s story. He said proceeds made form selling DVDs of the documentary go directly into funding that.

The Newport Cultural Center will also have a display with Fendler memorabilia, including the jacket he wore on the mountain and a baseball signed for him by the professional double-A baseball team based in Newport.

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