By Dedra Cordle
It was the moment Nathan Weidner had dreamed of for more than a decade.
Open on the computer screen before him was an editing software program filled with files from his recently wrapped film, all waiting to be assembled for the final cut.
While more hard work lay ahead for the director from the westside, this step should have made him buzz with anticipation as it signified the beginning of the end of the long and arduous path it took to get “A Story for Winter” made.
However, as he sat in his chair watching the scenes and playing back the footage, he was overcome by a sense of melancholy that came on strong and held on tight.
“I couldn’t understand what was happening at first because it was very unexpected,” said Weidner. “I had a wonderful time working on this film, a film that I promise is not a particularly sad one, but I guess that is what grief ultimately is. It can be dormant for a while but then it can just come up like a wave and wash you over.”
Having been in this situation many times before, Weidner knew it was pointless to fight against its power. Knowing that he had to allow the grief to run its course, he went back to re-examine the footage that helped unlock this emotion and allowed the memories to roll through.
It was 2007 and a new creative thought began to germinate in his mind. By that time, the 1988 graduate of West High School had two feature films to his name but he wanted to make something special for his daughter Meah who was born with severe cerebral palsy.
“She was a mystery to me,” said Weidner. “A wonderful, beautiful mystery. One of my favorite things to do was watch her because she was so expressive. She didn’t speak and we were never certain how much awareness she had of the things that were going on around her, but whenever we would look at her, she would have this little smile on her face, as if she were living out another world.”
As a teller of tales, he thought maybe it was the magical tales he would spin that created those little smiles but joked that it is sometimes a hard sell to buy.
“It was my hope that my stories would have that effect on people,” he said. “But whatever was taking place in her mind, I’m glad for it because we all loved those smiles.”
That question about the world Meah saw within her mind was what prompted Weidner and his sisters, Laura Gardner and Ardith Parsley to pen “The Dreamweaver” less than two years later – the title would later be changed to “A Story for Winter.”
“It was about this doctor who gets snowed in at a facility for children with developmental disabilities and somehow gets pulled into the dream of a non-verbal child where she can talk and run and play,” said Weidner.
In this dream, they have to fend off a malevolent forest creature, while in the waking world the doctor’s harried wife is fending off her own demons – her family at the holidays.
“It was written with a lot of humor, intrigue and some moments of sadness, said Weidner, “but not too much because the world had enough misery in it outside of movies.”
The plan was to shoot the film in 2009 but those plans were pushed to the back of everyone’s mind come July.
In early July, Weidner received a phone call that Meah was in the hospital having seizures. As he was located in Ohio and his ex-wife and children in South Carolina, he wanted to fly down immediately as the doctors did not believe she had long to live. Unable to get a flight out, he drove with his sister, hoping and praying for a better outcome.
“She had a lot of challenges throughout her life but she was a fighter,” said Weidner. “We all believed she could pull through again.”
Two days later, Meah died. She was 10 years old.
In the days following her death, their grief was compounded when they learned that the boyfriend of Meah’s mother had been arrested and charged with homicide by child abuse and infliction of bodily harm upon a child. He was later convicted of the first charge. He is serving life in prison.
In the subsequent years, Weidner had some thought of continuing “The Dreamweaver” story – they even had financial backing at one point – but decided he needed to concentrate on raising Destiny and Xander, Meah’s surviving sister and brother.
Two years ago, the dream Weidner once had of creating a story to honor Meah started percolating again, due in large part to a few students at Canal Winchester High School. Weidner, who has been a French and video production teacher at the school for several years, was watching a project from recent graduate Adam Scott and was “blown away” by both his performance and the method he used to film his movie.
“I was in awe of the emotions he was able to portray and I was shocked that he used an iPhone to do his project,” said Weidner.
He said it inspired him to dust off the script for “The Dreamweaver” – now officially called “A Story for Winter” – and get back to work making films.
From June 21 to Aug. 1, Weidner and the cast (which includes Adam Scott and fellow Canal Winchester graduate Allison Kuckman) filmed throughout the region, using the woods in Reynoldsburg for the fairy tale scene, the Third Way Café on the westside as a meeting place, a new wing of the high school as a doctor’s office and his own home for interior scenes.
Weidner said he had an amazing time filming with this “remarkable cast and crew” and thinks their spirit helped lessen some of the grief that tried to creep up daily while at the helm.
“Someone asked me if I felt a sense of catharsis while on the set and the answer is that I was so overwhelmed with the responsibilities of shooting that (Meah’s life and death]) wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.”
But when the film wrapped, and Weidner was all alone looking through the footage and revisiting lost hopes and dreams, that sense of melancholy for what was and what could have been slipped through.
And so, Nathan did what he has in the past when the grief rolls in.
“You let it come in its waves and you let it break over you whenever it shows up,” he said. “You acknowledge it, recognize its power, you grieve for however long you need and then you let go.”
He said it was easier this time – after all, he has a story for Meah to tell.
“A Story for Winter” will have its premiere for the cast and crew at the Phoenix Theaters Lennox Town Center on Nov. 27 at 6 p.m. The film is also scheduled to be shown the following day at the Hilliard Church of the Nazarene, located at 3669 Leap Road. The show times have not yet been set but they will be posted on the Facebook page for “A Story for Winter” and at www.astoryforwinter.com. It will also be streamed on Vimeo.com.