Mary O'Hara's popular novel "My Friend Flicka," a beloved, coming of age family classic about a rider's passionate connection with a wild horse — has enchanted children and adults for more than 70 years.
And now, the next chapter of the saga unfolds with "Flicka: Country Pride," the third installment of the contemporary film adaptations.
A focus group of 180 movie-goers viewed the film during its Newport Beach Film Festival premiere at Triangle Square Cinemas in Costa Mesa on April 28.
"I was a little terrified at first," Director Michael Damian said with a sigh of relief after the premiere. "It's like giving birth, you know. It's our baby — we raise it, deliver it to the studio, and now today is the release — sharing it with the world."
Damian — also known for his hit single "Rock On" and portrayal of "Danny" on the soap opera "The Young and Restless" — has directed projects such as "Marley & Me: The Puppy Years" and "Flicka 2," to which I contributed three songs on the soundtrack.
Throughout my musical involvement in Damian's films over the years, I am still amazed with his diverse skill set, which allows him to control every aspect of his filmmaking.
Filmed in the beautiful, wine-country town of Kelowna, British Columbia, screenwriter Jennifer Robinson's heartwarming family adventure has a down-home touch.
When Toby (an endearing Black) takes on a job at Cherry Creek Farms stables with Flicka in tow, the owner's teenage daughter Kelly (Rohl), quickly bonds with the wild horse. A budding equestrian rider, she hopes to break Flicka for an upcoming competition, despite her mother's (Hartman Black) disapproval.
With the competition approaching and a rival trainer stealing business, Kelly and her mother are forced to replace the team members or forfeit the stable.
But what's really intriguing is how Black, his wife and their precocious daughter, Lilly Pearl, 12, all managed to appear in the same film.
Hartman, who retired from her acting career 12 years ago, was initially opposed to her involvement, because she wanted to be there as a mother for Lilly Pearl in her first film role.
"And so, Michael had to talk Lisa into it and he said look, you've read the script, this woman is the love interest for Clint, and you're going to be there on set everyday and nobody can play this role better than you and you're going to be kicking yourself if you don't do it," Janeen Damian explained. "So she finally decided to do it."
But Black and Hartman-Black — who proved to be an irreplaceable asset — were not the only married couple working on the film.
Working in perfect synergy, Michael Damian and his wife, Janeen, produce their films in a wholesome manner that appeals to younger audiences, as well as the older ones.
Each has something unique to bring to the table. For Michael, it's his years of experience in the music, television and film industries; Meanwhile, Janeen lends her expertise as a championship horseback rider.
"Safety is the key and we are very proud to say this is our third horse film and forth animal film that we have done, where no animals have been harmed," Janeen Damian said.
Another challenge was keeping the actors safe, while making them convincingly ride at the competitive level.
"I was lucky I didn't fall off the horse very much," said Max Lloyd-Jones, who portrayed Kelly's love interest Briggs McBride. "I remember getting my heals down was my biggest issue that led me to sometimes nearly fall off and ruin a take."
For more than a year, Michael Damian has wanted to take the audience on a ride with Flicka. And, that he did.
The 111-minute film flew by, the action seamlessly interwoven with Mark Thomas' score. And frankly, weaknesses were hard to pinpoint.
According to Damian, audience demand will determine the realization of a fourth Flicka film.
Needless to say, tears and tissue requests after the Festival screening, were a good sign.