Boston Globe, May 26, 2005
Illuminating a vet's heart of darkness: Resident's first feature lures big Hollywood names.
Gabrielle Savage Dockterman of Carlisle has a photo of a pile of tissues taken a few years ago after she read a movie screenplay aloud to her son, Jake, who was then 12.
She recalls thinking that maybe she should stop reading because the story was upsetting the boy, but he told her to keep going.
Now Dockterman is about to bring the story of a Vietnam War veteran's emotional healing to a much wider audience. She is producer and director of the movie Missing In America, which will have its world premiere this weekend at the Seattle International Film Festival.
Although Carlisle is far from Hollywood and the independent production is Dockterman's first feature film, the cast includes major motion picture stars Danny Glover, Ron Perlman, Linda Hamilton, and David Strathairn.
Glover, who is known for his roles in The Color Purple, the Lethal Weapon series, The Royal Tenenbaums, and many other movies, plays the main character, Lieutenant Jake Neeley.
''It was a labor of love for everyone," Dockterman wrote in an e-mail this week. ''I don't think there was anyone on the project cast or crew who did it for the money. It was a passion project, and with that comes great synergy and creativity. I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to work with such great actors who brought so much to their characters and the film, and for all the right reasons."
In an interview last week, Dockterman said she is now searching for a distributor and hoping the film will make it to the big screen in theaters around the country in time for a Veterans Day release.
Dockterman's prior filmmaking experience has been in educational media. She said her niche was using a story as a way to educate a viewer about a topic.
She has worked for Tom Snyder Productions in Watertown, which is now owned by Scholastic, where her husband, David, is vice president and editor in chief. David Dockterman is on the Carlisle Public School Committee.
Another Carlisle resident, screenwriter Nancy L. Babine, is also involved in the movie project. Dockterman and Babine collaborated primarily by e-mail with Ken Miller, a screenwriter and Vietnam veteran from the West Coast, to revise Miller's original story, which he had called ''The Woodcutter."
In the story, Neeley, the main character, has lived alone in the woods of the Pacific Northwest since returning from Vietnam because he is plagued with guilt over lives lost under his command.
Although the story is not autobiographical, Miller said it is grounded in his understanding of the pain that he and many other veterans carry, not only because of what they saw and did, but also because of how they were treated back in the states. ''I've never gotten over the resentment I experienced when I got home from Vietnam," Miller said in a telephone interview.
Miller knows of some veterans who, like the movie's main character, still live in self-exile in the woods. He said he hopes that veterans will watch the movie and say, ''It's time to forgive myself."
Dockterman said she first read Miller's script in 2000. At that time, she had wanted to do a commercial film since 1996, and had already given up on bringing two previous screenplays to production. She was seeking ''a powerful drama with really strong characters and an unforgettable story," she said. She thought Miller's screenplay fit the bill.
''What grabbed me is there is this grumpy, lonely man living by himself," Dockterman said. ''He thinks he's fine, but really there's so much more that he could be living. He becomes guardian of this abandoned little girl, and she turns his life around."
The little girl is half Vietnamese, which helps force Neeley to confront his internal demons. Dockterman said that having the girl be half Vietnamese was her idea and a departure from Miller's original screenplay. The child is played by film newcomer Zoë Weizenbaum from Amherst, Mass., who has recently been cast as Young Pumpkin in the upcoming film Memoirs of a Geisha.
Besides finding the right screenplay and working with Miller and Babine to revise it, Dockterman faced many other challenges in creating the film. She formed her own production company, Angel Devil Productions, Inc., and also brought in Intrinsic Value Films as a production partner.
She wrote in an e-mail last week that ''Angel devil angel devil" was something she used to say about her son when he was going through the terrible twos, because he was a darling one minute and getting into things or being headstrong the next. ''I thought it would be a good name for a film company because to me it says conflict and drama, and struggle between opposing forces we all have within us," she said.
Dockterman got investors to raise the money needed for the project. She wouldn't say how much it cost, other than it was more than $1 million and less than $5 million.
Also key was luring major league stars to an independent film. She said that she and her producing partners made a list of actors they wanted in the film and Glover was first on the list of potential actors for the lead role. They contacted his agency and eventually Glover, who was filming in Africa this week, read the screenplay and decided he wanted to do the movie.
Although Glover was not a veteran himself, his brother was, according to Dockterman. Two years before Glover read the screenplay, his brother died of lung problems attributed to exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
''That's what the little girl's father died from in the story, so [Glover] really had a deep personal commitment," Dockterman said.
The film was shot over six weeks at the end of 2003 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Washington, D.C. Since then, it has been edited and screened for audiences at the school in Bedford where her son takes karate and for diverse groups of friends, acquaintances, and strangers reached through contacts and connections. It was finished a couple of weeks ago when she redid the opening with the new title. Trailers are being sent to distributors this week in hopes of getting them interested.
Finding a new name for the movie was one of Dockterman's challenges. She feared that with its original title, The Woodcutter, the film might be confused with another film, The Woodsman, which is about a pedophile.
In February, Dockterman and Babine made a presentation about the film at the library in Carlisle and mentioned their search for a new name. Afterwards, Richard and Shelley Dweck of Carlisle sent an e-mail with a couple of suggestions, including Missing In America."
Sally Heaney can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org