TV Veteran Makes Family Friendly Film
by Phil Boatwright

Although they invariably do well, family films are still in a minority.  But it might surprise you to learn of just how many film folk are indeed family friendly.   Actor/singer and one time The Young and the Restless heartthrob Michael Damian is an example of one of those filmmakers desiring to make a movie the entire family can view together.  And wouldn’t you just know it, the guy’s a Christian.

Together with Janeen, his wife of ten years, Michael Damian has written and directed a gentle G-rated film that is both entertaining and inspiring.  Moondance Alexander is based on true experiences Janeen underwent as an awkward, friendless preteen, the story concerns a 12-year-old and the pinto pony she befriends. Convinced that the horse has champion potential, she enters him in a jumping tournament otherwise reserved for thoroughbreds.

Having seen the pre-released DVD about a girl and her horse, I remember thinking, “Well, it’s no National Velvet, but there’s something special about this film.”  Along with its charming star, newcomer Kay Panabaker (Nancy Drew, Summerland), the beautiful locations (it’s shot in pristine Alberta, Canada) and the fact that the storytelling is done with regard for family members of all ages (in other words, it’s clean), it also showcases an inspirational message concerning standing by one’s convictions despite life’s obstacles.  And because of its biblical principles such as forgiveness and understanding, I found myself wondering if those responsible for the production might be Believers.  So when the studio’s publicist suggested I interview the director, I jumped at the chance.  And I was glad I did.  Here are a few highlights from my conversation with Mr. Damian.

P.B.  Michael, it’s a clean film.  Why so clean in an era where just about everything is accepted on screen?

M.D.  I grew up watching the Disney Sunday Night Movie.  That was the highlight of the week.  There was always a movie you could watch with the whole family.  They seem to be few and far between these days.  There’s a lot of PG-13 films.  I call them hybrid family films.  But I don’t know how you can really call them family films, because most of them contain something offensive or you have to take the kids out because of toilet humor.

Mainly we wanted to make a film that inspired people.  Something that motivated as well as entertained.  We wanted to take viewers on a positive journey.

We wanted viewers to be able to root for the underdog, because almost everyone at some point in their life is going to be that underdog.  You know, where you just have so many things going against you and you need faith to get you through.  At the beginning of the film Moondance is seen at the cemetery talking to her father in Heaven; she’s looking for support and guidance.

P.B.  The scene and her father in Heaven are rather symbolic.

M.D.  Exactly.

P.B.  What’s the main theme of the film?

M.D.  Hope, forgiveness and love.  The love is presented through the bond of the mother and her daughter, then there’s the hope of something wonderful happening, and lastly, she forgives those who treated her poorly.  At one point Moondance realizes she’s doing to others what they’ve been doing to her.  Though she’s a good person, she has to learn that there are certain things she has to work on in her life.  One of them is to forgive and not to judge as she’s been judged by her peers.

P.B.  I especially loved Don Johnson’s line to his young charge when he overhears snobbish girls slight her; “You know why they’re putting you down?  ‘Cause they’re not sure of themselves.”  I think that line is going to help a lot of kids understand one of the motives of the school bully.

M.D.  Thanks.  I’m not sure if I or my wife wrote that.  Our writing relationship is very collaborative.  I’ll sometimes start a sentence and she’ll finish it.

P.B.  Michael, are you aware that the messages in this film can be found in the Bible?

M.D.  My wife and I are both Christians and we attend church every Sunday.  I was raised in a Christian home.  My mother and father have been incredible role models and have instilled faith in us [nine children – six sisters and two brothers].  It’s incredible how important Christianity has been in my life.  I’ve been blessed with a lot of ups, but everybody has downs.  And God has always been there during those tough times. But you know, Christianity is not all about my little world, my universe.  It’s about reaching out to others, especially to those less fortunate.

P.B.  It would be nice to see more films that show a regard for family and for God’s Word.

M.D.  We’re definitely going against the grain in Hollywood with a family film.  Financing was not a piece of cake because a lot of people in the industry don’t think of family films as cool or edgy.  We’re okay with that.  Fortunately, there are lots of actors in the industry who want to be a part of good family films.  Don [Johnson], for instance, read the script and really liked it.  He has a family and wanted to make a film he could share with his kids.  I know this will sound self-serving, but I hope your readers will support this and other family films.  If they do, it will make it easier for filmmakers to get these films made.

Fox Home Entertainment releases Moondance Alexander  on DVD April 29th.    Along with Ms. Panabaker, the picture also features Don Johnson (Tin Cup, Miami Vice), Lori Loughlin (Summerland, Full House) and Olympic skating silver medalist Sasha Cohen (Blades Of Glory, Bratz). 

Moondance Alexander review:

FILM SYNOPSIS:  Life is a rough ride for awkward, friendless, 12-year-old Moondance.  But when a Pinto pony named Checkers leaps into her life, the young girl pursues a dream she never knew she had.  Convinced that the horse has champion potential, she enters him in a jumping tournament otherwise reserved for thoroughbreds.

Inspired by a true story, the cast includes Kay Panabaker (Nancy Drew, Summerland), Don Johnson (Tin Cup, Miami Vice), Lori Loughlin (Summerland, Full House) and Olympic skating silver medalist Sasha Cohen (Blades Of Glory, Bratz).

The film showcases an inspirational message of standing by one’s heart and convictions, regardless of the challenges or resistance from other forces that attempt to hinder that vision. Moondance Alexander garnered numerous awards in 2007 including the Dixie Film Festival Award for Best Feature Film and Outstanding Actor/Actress in a Motion Picture, the LA Femme Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay by Michael and Janeen Damian and the Newport Beach Film Festival Award for Best Family Feature Film. The Moondance Alexander DVD features a Laura Wright music video, behind-the-scenes with cast interview featurette.

PREVEW REVIEW:  There’s just no shortage of a-girl-and-her-horse movies, beginning with National Velvet, which exemplifies the genre.  Well, this one’s not quite in the same league, but I have nothing negative to say about Moondance.  Young Kay Panabaker is charming, and from what I can tell, a good rider (I used to ride, myself).  The locations are beautiful, some breathtaking, the story-telling is done with regard for family members of all ages (in other words, it’s clean), and positive messages abound.  I especially loved Don Johnson’s line to his young charge when he overhears snobbish girls slight her; “You know why they’re putting you down?  ‘Cause they’re not sure of themselves.”  The message helps kids understand one of the motives of the school bully.

A great outdoor adventure for the entire family.  Phil Boatwright, Preview On Line

Not rated, I caught nothing objectionable.