WATERVILLE — Filmmaker Ryan Cook is looking for a brave, determined boy to portray iconic Mainer Donn Fendler on the big screen.

When Fendler was 12, in 1939, he walked, crawled for nine days, dragging himself 80 miles to safety while lost alone on Mount Katahdin.

Cook, a 2005 Waterville Senior High School graduate, is developing the feature film “Lost on a Mountain in Maine,” based on the book of the same name written decades ago by Fendler and Joseph B. Egan.

Cook is seeking aspiring actors at an audition Thursday 5-8 p.m. at Radio Communications, 11 Water St.

Being a polished actor isn’t a requirement to play Fendler, Cook said.

Being like Fendler is.


Cook said that means finding a boy with “the will to survive and uncanny ability stay positive in the face of adversity.”

Fendler said he was active, liked sports, had a lot of friends, got into a bit of trouble and loved playing baseball during summers in Maine.

Fendler said God provided him with strength during the ordeal in which he lost 16 pounds and survived exhaustion, bugs, boulders and branches that shredded his clothing.

“I never thought of dying,” Fendler said. “I never gave up. I always thought I would find somebody or somebody would find me.”

Fendler said he hopes the feature film, like the book, inspires tenacity in youth.

“The reason the (original) book was written was because Dad wanted kids to see what faith and determination can do,” Fendler said.


In addition to casting Fendler, Cook is looking for actors to portray Fendler’s family and searchers.

Cook said he feels a responsibility to share Fendler’s story on the big screen.

“He’s waited a long time for this happen,” Cook said. Fendler turns 86 in August.

“Every day I wake up inspired and ready to push forward. It was a huge (national) story in 1939. The country was just recovering from the Depression and when he was found it was uplifting.”

After Thursday night’s casting call, a couple of other summer events will focus attention on Fendler and his story.

The Maine Lakes Resource Center in Belgrade will host “An Evening With Donn Fendler” on Saturday, July 7.


The 7:30 p.m. event will include a clip from Cook and Derek Desmond’s 2011 documentary film “Finding Donn Fendler: Lost on a Mountain in Maine 72 Years Later,” which premiered in August at the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville.

Fendler will participate in a question-and-answer session and sign copies of his book and his 2011 graphic novel “Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness,” which he wrote with children’s author Lynn Plourde.

Then, in mid-July, a film crew will shoot a three-minute trailer and a 10-minute promotional scene on Sugarloaf Mountain and Carrabassett Valley.

The crew will be filming 73 years to the day that Fendler’s fateful hike on Maine’s highest peak began — July 17, 1939.

Cook, who earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in film production from Emerson College, wants viewers, and potential investors, to experience sights, sounds and terrain that Fendler endured.

Cook said he’ll show the highlight reel to investors in hopes they’ll fund production of the full-length film.


“We want them to want more,” he said.

The movie will feature new details about conflicts that arose between Fendler’s father and search organizers, Cook said.

In addition to talking with Fendler and reading the book multiple times, Cook scoured through 1939 newspaper stories and viewed film footage from the search.

Cook’s scenes could include aerial views of the search, as well as snippets of searchers on horses and bloodhounds with leather booties scouring the rocky rugged terrain.

Some searchers, including mill workers who helped look for Fendler, slept at night on cliffs, Cook said.

Cook previously said he was eager to shoot the scene when Fendler reunited with his mother, Ruth, in separate canoes on the Penobscot River.


Cook’s interest in Fendler’s story began when he was a boy.

His parents, Randy and Debbie, read Fendler’s book to him, he hiked Mount Katahdin with his dad and he was riveted by Fendler’s presentation to his elementary school class.

Cook, a freelance film location manager based in Boston, pursues his dream of making the film in between his paying jobs.

This winter, he and Desmond raised $15,000 on Kickstarter, an online fundraising platform where people pledge money for proposed creative projects. The money will cover the cost of this summer’s filming, Cook said.

Cook has been scouting locations as well as digging through antique shops for period props and clothes to prepare for the shoot.

He’s still on the hunt for a 1930s canoe and old Army tents.


Cook said he will take one break before shooting starts; he’s scheduled to attend the Boston premiere of “Ted,” starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and Seth MacFarlane.

He worked on the film in Boston last year.

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]

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