WATERVILLE — The riveting true tale is already a book, a graphic novel and a documentary film.

And now Ryan Cook wants Donn Fendler’s harrowing experience of being lost on Mount Katahdin in 1939 to play on the big screen.

When Fendler was 12, as many generations of Mainers know, he separated from his Mount Katahdin hiking party and survived for nine days on the rugged 5,268-foot peak before finding telephone lines and a stream and following them to a camp.

Cook, a 2005 graduate of Waterville Senior High School, is well-versed in Fendler’s story. Cook’s father, Randy read him the book, “Lost on a Mountain in Maine.”

Growing up, he also hiked Mount Katahdin with his dad and Cook remembers Fendler’s visit and presentation to his elementary school class.

Fendler, 85, still speaks at elementary schools about his fateful hike that began July 17, 1939.

To share Fendler’s inspirational story with an even wider audience, Cook is seeking to raise $15,000 to make a highlight reel of clips of the tale.

He’ll use the money to film cliffhanger snippets in hopes that investors will agree to fund production of a full-length feature film based on the 128-page book by Fendler and Joseph B. Egan.

Cook, who has a bachelor of fine arts degree in film production from Emerson College, asked people to visit www.donnfendlerfilm.com to check out his plans, and if they’re so inclined, to click on the Kickstarter fundraiser link to make a donation.

Financial donors, he said, are eligible for prizes, including DVDs, movie posters, books, T-shirts, a dinner with Fendler and a possible cameo appearance in the film.

Cook said if he and project partner Derek Desmond do not raise the entirety of the $15,000 by Jan. 31, the pledged money will be returned to donors.

“Right now we’ve raised $1,500, so we’re at 10 percent of the goal,” Cook said. “I’m putting on a full-court press because I know the people of Maine want this to be made.”

In addition to the book that Fendler wrote with Egan, and Cook’s and Desmond’s 60-minute documentary “Finding Donn Fendler: Lost on a Mountain in Maine 72 Years Later” which premiered this summer at the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville, there’s also the recently published graphic novel “Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness” by Fendler, children’s author Lynn Plourde and artist Ben Bishop.

To Cook, the larger-than-life Fendler belongs on a big screen. Cook said the resilience shown by Fendler who, in the face of cold, pain, hunger, fear, and hallucinations, “continued to put one foot in front of the other and push forward,” is an example to others facing hardships.

“He’s really inspirational,” said Cook.

During the nine days he was lost, Fendler lost 16 pounds, much of his clothing and footgear were torn away, he was startled by a bear and insects feasted on his exposed skin.

Fendler, who lives in Newport and Tennessee, said his experience more than 70 decades ago years ago strengthened his faith in God, taught him to be responsible for his actions, and gave him a greater appreciation of his family.

According to news accounts in 1939, as the search was drawn out, many feared Fendler was dead and the search was for a body rather than a boy.

“It was a huge (national) story in 1939,” said Cook. “The country was just recovering from the Depression and when he was found it was uplifting. He had traveled 80 miles, lost most of his clothes and lost about 20 pounds. It was epic.”

Cook, who works as a location manager for films shot in Boston, envisions a number of scenes will be inspiring and suspenseful.

Cook has scoured through 1939 newspapers, viewed 8-millimeter film footage, and has talked with Fendler about his experience in the thick Maine forest.

Highlights, said Cook, could include shots of airplanes over Mount Katahdin, where searchers on horses or with bloodhounds with leather booties scoured the rocky rugged terrain.

Rather than go to work, mill workers in Millinocket helped look for the boy. Cook said at night, some searchers slept on cliffs.

One scene Cook is eager to shoot is the one in which 12-year-old Fendler and his mother, Ruth, both in canoes, reunite on the Penobscot River.

“When people watch it, I want them to be blown away and want to see the rest of the movie,” Cook said. “It wouldn’t be based on a true story. It would be a true story.”

That true story included President Franklin D. Roosevelt presenting Fendler with a medal of valor. In addition, a parade was held in his honor, and he was featured in Life Magazine.

Cook’s resume includes work as a location manager for Ben Affleck’s 2010 film “The Town,” as well as Tom Cruise’s “Knight and Day” and Mark Wahlberg’s “Ted.”

He said he loves his career and longs to shoot this film on location in Maine.

Cook, who said he has known since he was 6 that he wanted to make movies, got a glimpse of his dream for three months when he was a junior at Waterville Senior High School. He volunteered before and after school on the Elm City set of “Empire Falls,” the HBO miniseries based on Richard Russo’s 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

“The experience changed my life,” Cook said. “It shaped me as a person.”

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]

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