A real feel-good film

'Batkid Begins' has local origin story

On Nov. 15, 2013, 5-year-old cancer survivor Miles Scott had his wish come true. For one day, he got to don a costume and become Batman's new sidekick, "Batkid." In what became the ultimate feel-good event, thousands cheered as Batkid raced throughout San Francisco to solve criminal capers in the largest stunt ever attempted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The origin story of the school-age superhero and how he suddenly became a worldwide sensation is now being told in "Batkid Begins," a new documentary that began screening in Mountain View last weekend. The production, which details the flurry of preparations that came together for the big day, was made possible by the hard work of local filmmakers.

"Batkid Begins" is the fourth feature-length film by Los Altos resident Dana Nachman and her production company, KTF Films. Nachman, a former NBC Bay Area news producer, began getting interested in long-form documentary storytelling after a career devoted to two-minute news clips.

The uplifting story of Batkid is a quite a divergence from Nachman's earlier films. Her first independent documentary, 2008's "Witch Hunt," chronicled the judicial problems in Bakersfield after a tough-on-crime prosecutor sought to convict dozens of people on trumped-up sex crimes. Her next documentary, "Love Hate Love" from 2011, profiled local victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks who were coping with loss and despair.

How did such a hard-nosed journalist get charmed by the Batkid tale? As a mother of three, Nachman explained that she really wanted to produce something her kids could relate to and enjoy.

"Everything about this story resonated with me," Nachman said. "I didn't come into this with any preconceived notions. For me, this wasn't really a story about Miles. It was about a community coming together for good."

On the day of the event, thousands of people participated in making Batkid a reality, including a throng of professional volunteers. Hollywood actors played the roles of Batman, the Riddler, Penguin and a cast of other characters. A former video-game designer helped outfit a Lamborghini to resemble the Batmobile. Apple Inc. puts its public-relations team to work to promote the event. Even President Barack Obama participated in a video to congratulate the pint-sized caped-crusader.

Yet Nachman was one person who wasn't involved in the events of the day. In fact, she only heard about Batkid after the fact. As she learned more, she became eager to make it the subject for her next production. But as a filmmaker, she had a big problem: She lacked any of her own footage of the Batkid event.

Nachman said she was lucky to get the help of John Crane, a local film producer who trailed the Batkid events throughout the day with a 12-person camera crew. Crane, a former Palo Alto High School football star, helped produce a shorter 10-minute documentary on behalf of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

"It was a true labor of love," Crane said. "At one point, we were shooting from downtown to AT&T park, and the street was lined with people cheering the whole way. We saw some winos on the street, and they also had their phones out shooting pictures!"

Nachman complemented that footage of the day with her own follow-up work, including interviews with Miles' family, the Make-A-Wish organizers and the large cadre of volunteers. She also made use of video that Miles' family shot of him getting acrobatics training at the Circus Center the day before the event.

Her film was meant to showcase the outpouring of effort to make one child's dream come true. In the end, that theme become the real focus of her documentary.

"Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around the World" is currently screening at Century Cinema 16 at 1500 N. Shoreline Blvd. in Mountain View.

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