(This was a feature article written for FoxFaith.com for the release of the DVD of "Moondance Alexander." The link is replaced each month.)
When Michael and Janeen Damian decided to make a movie, they didn’t know they were creating a cathartic experience for all involved. "Moondance Alexander" is the story of how hope changes a girl with no friends, a horse trainer with no clients, and a horse with no pedigree. This new movie, distributed by Fox Faith, is based on Janeen’s childhood adventures with her Pinto pony named Checkers.
Both writers shed tears during the process. “Michael was constantly asking me, ‘What did you do then?’ and ‘What did your trainer say?’” added Janeen, who co-wrote and co-produced the film. “He was helping me go down memory lane and tap into the emotions.”
Director and co-writer Michael Damian, best known for his 18-year-long appearance on The Young and the Restless, believes true stories inspire audiences because the emotions are genuine, not created in a laboratory. “This is the type of movie that an audience can connect to emotionally and walk away feeling good.”
The cast is full of family-friendly favorites. Kay Panabaker (Nancy Drew, Disney Channel) stars. “She was in every scene,” Michael said. “She’s a brilliant young actress.” She acts with abandon around the horse, awkwardness with peers, and transparency with her mother.
James Best (Dukes of Hazzard) is Janeen’s real-life father. He brought his six decades of experience to the role of Mr. McClancy, Moondance’s boss and mentor.
Lori Loughlin (Full House) plays Moondance’s mom. But this movie mother is not the source of conflict. “Michael and I are blessed with great relationships with our mothers,” Janeen said. “Michael pushed me to remember how my mother responded to my challenges in respect and love. We wanted to portray a respectful relationship. We wanted to show kids and families that they can work through problems in a positive way.”
Figure skater, Olympic Silver Medalist, Sasha Cohen plays the movie’s villain. “She only has one thing in common with her character—she is a fierce competitor,” said Janeen with a chuckle.
Even veteran tough guy Don Johnson got all in the family. “The role is a departure for him and a wonderful and unique surprise for us,” Michael said. Johnson plays Dante Longpré, a failure-ridden trainer looking for a comeback.
Michael and Janeen created an atmosphere on set that reflected the same values displayed in "Moondance Alexander". “We tried to lead by example and treat the cast and crew with respect,” Michael said.
“Filmmaking is a very adult universe,” Janeen said. “You want to take special care when you’re working with these young actors.”