By Madelyn M. Ritroksy-Winslow
John Gatins wanted to direct his own screenplay. He says that’s why it took four years to get Dreamer, his feature film directing debut, up on the screen. He recently made the screenwriting jump to higher ranks with Coach Carter.
Although Gatins grew up near horses, the genesis of his story came when he heard about the horse named Mariah Storm. A promising filly, she broke her leg in 1993. But with lots of care and determination from her owner and trainers, she came back in 1994 and won a Breeder’s Cup in 1995.
Gatins says he became quite interested in exploring family ties after he and his wife had two children. Specifically, his original screenplay focused on three generations of men in the Crane family. He created an interesting family dynamic to intertwine with a remarkable comeback for a fictional horse. (Characters refer to Mariah Storm as inspiration and proof of what is possible.)
But it wasn’t just the horse who was transformed from the real-life Mariah Storm to the fictional Sonya short for Sonador (Spanish for Dreamer, and played by Sacrifice). Gatins says that after watching Dakota Fanning (now 11 years old) in Man on Fire, he decided that the youngest generation of Cranes could be a girl and that Fanning would be perfect as Cale.
After hooking Kurt Russell to play Ben Crane, the girl’s father and a horse trainer for a wealthy owner, he was able to land Fanning for what he calls a small Dreamworks production (tight budget, tight shooting schedule).
When I spoke with John Gatins at the Heartland Film Festival’s premiere of Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, the screenwriter/director also said he was very pleased with audience reactions so far.
Dreamer is Heartland’s newest Truly Moving Picture Award winner, where films with positive and hopeful messages about the human condition are singled out for attention. Coach Carter also received this award.
Being the kind of film that it is, we know in advance that Sonya is going to make some sort of amazing comeback which will parallel some sort of family “comeback.” The latter is the healing of emotional estrangement between older father and son (Kris Kristofferson as Pop and Russell as Ben) and between younger father and daughter (where the rift is not so deep).
The Cranes have had to struggle in various ways to get to the climax of the film, the moment when Sonya, against all the odds, wins that big comeback race, the Breeder’s Cup. This is, of course, a very emotional moment.
I attended this premiere with my six-year-old son, and he put his arm up in a triumphant gesture when Sonya’s nose crossed that finish line first. I later asked him what his favorite part of the movie was and he said this winning moment was indeed his favorite.
When I asked him his second favorite part, he said it was that the jockey riding Sonya in that big race was racing for the first time since a very bad fall and trampling a few years earlier. Freddy Rodríguez plays Manolin, the training jockey who also makes an emotional comeback.
Dreamer opened in theaters on Friday, October 21, 2005.