In the middle of a life-changing season of his life, Scott Holmgren found a story worth telling through film.
WINDERMERE Although he studied filmmaking in college, Windermere resident Scott Holmgren had never made a full-blown documentary. Instead, he found himself in the corporate world where he currently works as a marketing director in the hotel industry.
It’s not that he lost a passion for the art of film, but rather that he hadn’t found the story he wanted to tell.
“I don’t know if I would ever make a film for (the sake of) making it,” he said. “It’d have to have that appeal. It’d have to be something I want to see for myself.”
About five years ago, he found that inspiration in U.S. Army Col. James (Jim) Wilhite. The result is the documentary “We Answered the Call.”
MEETING HIS MUSE
Holmgren’s son graduated from West Orange High School in 2010 and was accepted into the United States Military Academy at West Point. It was a monumental time for the Holmgrens, who don’t have a military background.
Within a few days of the acceptance, the family received an invitation to a West Point Parents Club of Central Florida luncheon. At that luncheon, Wilhite told his story — he had been a member of the Army Reserve for more than 35 years and a college professor for more than 20 when he was called to active duty in 2004. His mission was lofty: Build a military school for Afghan students using West Point as a model. He saw the mission through, despite funding challenges and other obstacles.
Holmgren was blown away.
“Afterwards, I (said), “‘How come I never heard this story?’” Holmgren said.
It was a breath of fresh air for Holmgren. As he sent his son to the military, he was relieved to hear a good news story in a time he felt was dominated by negative military stories.
Holmgren bought Wilhite’s book, “We Answered the Call.” After he finished reading it, he called Wilhite and expressed his amazement over the story — which Wilhite said was a common reaction. Holmgren added he thought it could be a movie, which Wilhite mentioned he had also heard people say. But then Holmgren said something different from all the others.
“Well, what do you think?” he asked.
There was a pause on the line.
After Holmgren and Wilhite had more discussions, Wilhite agreed to work on the film.
ROLLING THE SNOWBALL
“The expression Jim often uses is rolling the snowball down the hill — you (have) to keep it rolling or it’s going to melt,” Holmgren said. “So when I told him, ‘Hey, it would be great to make a film,’ he said, ‘Let’s roll the snowball down the hill.’”
Holmgren initially wrote a full-length screenplay adaptation, but after attending the GI Film Festival in 2012, they decided to tell the story as a documentary.
Holmgren wanted the soldiers to tell the story rather than a narrator. To his delight, he realized a core group of officers involved in the mission were going to be at West Point at the same time for one month. After coordinating with the West Point public affairs office, Holmgren and Wilhite went to interview the officers there.
Holmgren was fascinated with both the education and military sides of the story. For the Afghans, access to education was a huge stride.
“To actually sit and talk with (the officers) was humbling,” Holmgren said. “I loved hearing them speak as real people. The take on the story that is so interesting for me was this isn’t necessarily just a military story.”
The 30-minute film was complete in 2015 — the 10-year anniversary of the opening of National Military Academy of Afghanistan.
It premiered globally at the Branson Veterans Week Film Festival in Branson, Missouri, where Holmgren estimates more than 400 people viewed the film.
Wilhite invited team members who were part of the mission, and Holmgren was able to meet people whose names he had only read in the book.
The film has been submitted to the GI Film Festival, which takes place in May.
Holmgren studied film in college, but his career took him to the corporate world. “We Answered the Call” was Holmgren’s first film, although he has used his skills throughout his career.
He was the president of the West Point Parents Club of Central Florida — the organization that introduced him to Wilhite — for two years.
He enjoys life in Windermere, where he has lived with his wife and four kids since 2001.
His hobbies include baseball — he was on the board of Windermere Little League for a few years while his kids played — history and reading.
But will he create another film?
“I would imagine if something were to get my attention and I get passionate about another project, I could see it being in one of those areas,” he said.
Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected].