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“There’s a lot of heart in this movie and only a little of it is mine.”
Those words from director Mitch Davis perfectly sum up his new film, The Stray, coming to select theatres nationwide October 6, 2017. You know his work from The Other Side of Heaven where he brought John H. Groberg’s magnificent story to life. This time it is Mitch Davis’ own magnificent story he is bringing to the screen.
The Stray tells the story of a young family who is struggling and the dog that comes out of nowhere to save them in ways they didn’t even know they would need to be saved. The film is more than just a ‘dog movie’; it is an affirmation of the ways that answers to prayer don’t always come in the way you expect and a gentle reminder that some angels have fur.
Every family has their stories, the stories that are told and retold so often that they become a part of the very fabric of family life. Being struck by lightning and surviving it was bound to become a story like that for the Davis family. “It was a personal story,” Mitch said, “a sacred story in our family and it felt weird to broadcast it. So, we never planned to [make this movie].” But their son Parker saw the potential in it and wouldn’t give up on the idea.
Parker was the only one of the children that wasn’t born yet when his Dad and older brother were struck by lightning, but he was determined to find a way to tell the story. He interviewed all involved and brought back a screenplay that Mitch and his wife Michelle were surprised to find had all the elements to become a great movie.
So, with Mitch directing and Michelle as an Associate Producer, they set about revisiting and recreating a whole season of their own family life, over 25 years past.
“We were at a very stressful point in our lives,” Michelle said of that time, “[Mitch] had just finished at USC film school and we had two kids and a baby…we were both pretty maxed out.” It was in the midst of this, as Mitch was working long hours at a film studio and rarely at home, that he suggested they get a dog.
“Oh yeah, that’s what I need,” was Michelle’s sarcastic response, “tell you what, if a stray ever shows up, I’ll think about keeping it.” Two weeks later, a stray dog followed their oldest child home from the bus stop.
Probably not what Michelle had hoped for, but he turned out to be a wonderful dog. Mitch said, “We saved the stray dog and then the stray dog saved us, first emotionally and then physically, as you’ll see in the film.”
The two agreed that it was a wonderful experience to sit on set and watch actors Michael Cassidy (Argo, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Sarah Lancaster (Chuck, Saved by the Bell: The New Class) reenact scenes from their real life and real marriage. “Those experiences were difficult at the time,” Mitch said, “but on reflection, were just beautiful.”
The Stray really is, among other things, a poignant reflection on family life. Though the initial difficulties facing the family are common ones, the characters feel real and grounded and unique. The dialogue is detailed and personal in a way that feels like a slice of someone’s real life and not like the generic interactions of made up people. The characters don’t exist just to set up the miracle as is so often the case in inspirational film, but the miracle truly saves the life of a family that the audience can feel genuinely connected to.
The creators of the film connected too. In fact, recreating this season of their own life was something of a cathartic experience. “It ended up being a very emotional thing,” Michelle said, “I wasn’t there when they got hit by lightning and all of the sudden, I was visually seeing it as they were filming it. Several times, I just started to cry.”
“Life is so busy and it was such a traumatic thing, sometimes we just put it on a shelf and march forward,” Michelle added, “It just brought all of that emotion back that we haven’t really processed…It was really a wonderful thing to see all of it playing out.”
Now their personal story will play on the big screen for audiences nationwide in a film that is full of joy and humor and struggle and sacrifice. Mitch expressed his hope that audiences come away with “a keen awareness of how beautiful family life is, even when it’s crazy and stressful and seemingly hopeless and hapless.”
He also hopes the film leaves its viewers with an awareness of “the reality that God knows who we are, knows what our needs are and He will hear and answer our prayers, whether in the form of a stray dog that might be a guardian angel, or in the form of a miracle that saves your life…God knows where we are.”
The Stray will open in select theaters across the nation October 6, 2017. To find out if it’s coming to a screen near you, click here.