Cover Story: Movie teeming with local tie-ins
By Craig Howard
David Dahlke was calm, respectful and patient. Lyle Hatcher was not.
The two met when they were in the fourth grade at north Spokane's Linwood Elementary. That was 48 years ago. For Hatcher, the fact his new friend couldn't walk like other students was irrelevant. When he began pushing Dahlke and his wheelchair everywhere, people started referring to the pair as "David and the motor."
One day at school, Dahlke intervened when a group of kids were bullying Hatcher, caroming his wheelchair into the skirmish. The gesture taught Hatcher a lesson he still refers to almost five decades later.
"I just remember thinking if someone like that can step up, I never want to hear myself complain or feel sorry for myself," Hatcher said. "I think that's the greatest thing you can learn - you can either complain or you can get up each morning and say ‘This is the day I'm going to do something worthwhile.'"
While Dahlke dealt with the effects of muscular dystrophy - a condition characterized by progressive muscle skeletal weakness - Hatcher was coping with hyperactivity and behavioral problems. Dahlke sat and Hatcher sprinted, but the two formed a friendship.
Dahlke also had a spiritual view of life that provided him with an enlightened perspective Hatcher had not seen before. When challenged why God couldn't simply allow him to run again, David let Lyle and others know, "It doesn't work that way."
For Hatcher, the friendship had a ripple effect beyond a few years in north Spokane. From pushing wheelchairs in Bloomsday to visiting Vietnam with his wife, Maria, to help kids in need of orthotics and prosthetics, Hatcher points to the example of Dahlke as "something that had a life-changing effect."
Now, Hatcher is telling the story of his "most impactful friend" in a movie titled "Different Drummers," based on the book of the same name. The film will make its premier in Spokane on Jan. 10 at the AMC 20 Theaters at RiverPark Square.
"The world needs a hero, and David is real," said Hatcher, a resident of Liberty Lake for the past eight years. "This story has a way of realigning people."
Hatcher co-directed and co-wrote the film along with Don Caron, a Spokane-based musician, composer and screenwriter. Hatcher, who quit his job as a successful financial advisor nine years ago to work on the project, said he and Caron "have spent most of our money and time on this because we believe in it."
"We were literally running on fumes, but we did it," Hatcher said. "I quit a very high-paying job to work on this. I knew that nothing had more value."
In addition to the investment of Hatcher and Caron, the film's $1.5 million budget was financed by local contributions from the likes of Gary Marks, Liberty Lake resident Pam Fredrick and others.
"The support has been incredible," Hatcher said. "We had an entire city helping us."
After hearing friends and family tell him for years that he needed to preserve the story of his friend, Hatcher went to the studios of North by Northwest to record the account. It was there he met Caron, who co-wrote the screenplay and penned the musical score for the critically acclaimed 1999 film, "The Basket." Impressed with the narrative, Caron took up Hatcher's cause. Soon, there was talk of a screenplay.
"It's a great dichotomy of characters," Caron said.
By 2007, Dahlke's story was attracting attention. "Different Drummers" was honored as Best Screenplay at film festivals in Houston and the San Fernando Valley. One investor offered $1 million for the script, but Hatcher and Caron passed, insisting to preserve the integrity of the message.
"We wanted to tell the true story," Hatcher said. "I didn't do this for the money or an ego trip. I did it to make sure everyone knows who David was and knows his story."
Research for the book and screenplay involved interviewing those who knew David best, including his family, teachers and friends. Among them was Gloria Dahlke, David's 92-year-old mother who still lives in Spokane. When the book was published in 2009, it became a regional best-seller.
The filming of "Different Drummers" began on Oct. 1, 2012. The campus of Pratt Elementary, located in the Edgecliff neighborhood on the fringe of Spokane Valley and closed since 2007, was transformed to resemble the school Hatcher and Dahlke attended in the mid-1960s. Around 375 local extras were part of the project along with a cast and crew of 200. Hatcher notes that more than 50 residents of Liberty Lake appear in the movie.
"It's our town," Hatcher said. "It's our story. People are going to see a street in the movie and recognize it."
Since early December, Hatcher has been speaking before area churches, schools and other groups about the movie. He is hoping crowds top 20,000 - a number that could mean the film earning wider distribution.
"When people go, they need to pay very close attention," he said. "It's not ‘Star Wars' or ‘Avatar.' It's real."
As for the takeaway message from "Different Drummers," Hatcher refers to the review of one critic who said the story will remind people "to live life with everything you've got."
"It was a life-changing friendship," Hatcher said. "I'm just glad I can pass on his story."