Dreams of gold

Lo­cally shot TV movie tells in­spi­ra­tional story of Olympic gym­nast Gabby Dou­glas

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - FRONT PAGE - RAN­DALL KING

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — In 2011, she was a promis­ing young Amer­i­can gym­nast. In 2012, she was an Olympic gold medal­list. In 2013, she is the sub­ject of a TV movie, The Gabby Dou­glas Story. In 2014, her in­spi­ra­tional story will be broad­cast on the U.S. cable net­work Life­time. She is Gabrielle Dou­glas and she is 17. The movie, which wrapped its tight four­week pro­duc­tion sched­ule on Fri­day, has mostly been shoot­ing in Winnipeg with its last few days shot in Portage la Prairie’s PCU Cen­tre, where Dou­glas her­self was mak­ing her own movie de­but in the film’s last scenes. “I never could have imag­ined a movie about my life story,” Dou­glas says upon emerg­ing from the hair/makeup trailer in the PCU’s park­ing lot. “It’s so amaz­ing and I’m re­ally ex­cited,” she says of her event­ful life af­ter win­ning gold medals in the team com­pe­ti­tion and the in­di­vid­ual all-around last year in Lon­don. “Af­ter the Olympics, I thought I was go­ing to go home and have din­ner. I didn’t know. I had no idea.” “I never dreamed of hav­ing a movie,” she says. “But there was so much false in­for­ma­tion on the In­ter­net about my life story.” “The movie is ba­si­cally about me and my fam­ily, and what we had to go through.” In­deed, hers is the kind of story that needs no melo­dra­matic ad­di­tives. When young Dou­glas (por­trayed by Syd­ney Mikayla from age 7 to 12) demon­strated gifts as a gym­nast, her mother Natalie and her three sib­lings scraped and sac­ri­ficed to en­able her to come within reach of the ul­ti­mate ath­letic achieve­ment at the Olympics. That meant at one point mov­ing her to Iowa, where the older Dou­glas (played by Imani Hakim) could study un­der famed coach Liang Chow (played in the movie by Brian Tee of The Wolver­ine). “Even be­fore she won, we were jok­ing about the idea of mak­ing a movie,” says Gabby’s mom, Natalie Hawkins. “It took so much for her to even make the Olympic team and we thought that would be such a good movie, be­cause so many peo­ple could draw in­spi­ra­tion from what we went through.” The fam­ily got to en­gage in the game of guess­ing who would play them in the movie ver­sion of their lives. Natalie’s dream choice: “Halle Berry,” she says with a smile. But Natalie is more than happy with the ac­tress who even­tu­ally as­sumed the role — Regina King, a ver­sa­tile Amer­i­can ac­tress best known for roles in Ray (as tem­pes­tu­ous singer Margie Hen­dricks) and Jerry Maguire, in which she played Cuba Good­ing’s force-of­na­ture mis­sus. “What I like about it is it’s a story of per­se­ver­ance,” King says. “It’s a mo­ti­va­tor for young girls, and we al­ways need more con­tent on tele­vi­sion that is pos­i­tive that al­lows the au­di­ence see how much work goes into mak­ing your dreams a re­al­ity.” In the film, Winnipeg sub­sti­tutes for Vir­ginia, Dou­glas’s home state, and Iowa, where the young gym­nast was sent to live and train when it be­came ap­par­ent she was des­tined for gym­nas­tics great­ness. The Gabby Dou­glas Story is the sec­ond movie shot in Manitoba in re­cent years to uti­lize a lo­cal pool of gym­nas­tic tal­ent and fa­cil­i­ties, af­ter the Amer­i­can Girl movie McKenna Shoots for the Stars in 2011. And for pro­ducer David Rose­mont, it is his sec­ond sports-themed movie to be shot in Winnipeg. Rose­mont pro­duced the 2004 base­ball movie The Win­ning Sea­son, which starred Matthew Mo­dine. “When I landed here for a pre-scout, I im­me­di­ately went to the lo­cal gyms to see if there was a gym­nas­tic com­mu­nity here,” Rose­mont says. “Be­cause as much as the (tax) in­cen­tives are im­por­tant, I needed that.” Rose­mont found what he needed at Pan­thers Gym­nas­tics. The fa­cil­ity’s own­ers, Robert Per­sechino and He­lene Des­marai, had worked be­hind the scenes on McKenna, which starred Nia Varda­los. “They had ex­pe­ri­ence and un­der­stood what a movie set is all about and how we needed to pre­pare,” Rose­mont says. “When I saw the gym­nasts here, I knew I could fill the screen and I didn’t bring in any gym­nasts from out­side, ex­cept for the main dou­ble (for Gabby Dou­glas). They’ve been just great.” At the end of the four-week shoot, Rose­mont is grate­ful the cast and crew were able to work so quickly and ef­fi­ciently.

“It’s fast be­cause it’s timely,” he says. “(Gabby) is so well known and she’s a role model for so many peo­ple be­cause of what she ac­com­plished.” The Gabby Dou­glas Story does not have a spe­cific air date on Life­time, but is ex­pected to air as early as Fe­bru­ary 2014.

GRE­GORY BULL / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

AP PHOTO/GRE­GORY BULL, FILE

The real Gabby Dou­glas com­petes (top) and cel­e­brates her vic­tory at the Lon­don Olympics.

Above, Imani Hakim as Dou­glas

and right,with Regina King.

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