Occasionally, a film appears at precisely the right time during a country’s history. “Elijah and Jack” is perfect—now.
As the United States of America grapples with chronic political divisiveness, producer, director, and writer Risa Leigh Clarke has set out to create a family-friendly movie about America’s founding principles: family, freedom, and home.
“While our film is not political, it is very timely. At its core, the story of “Elijah and Jack – A Revolutionary Tale” celebrates unifying values: the beauty of a loving family, the resilience of the human spirit as father and son fight to get back to each other, and the goodness of freedom and home,” says Clarke.
The movie is set to tell the adventures of a courageous 8-year-old farmboy and his faithful dog they encounter famous figures of the American Revolution on his search for his father who has gone missing during the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. Described by its creators as “Tom Sawyer Meets The Patriot”, the film will highlight the often-forgotten lives of young camp followers who served alongside the armies of the conflict, and will be appealing to families and viewers of all ages, lovers of history, and of course appreciators of good film-making.
The story was adapted from Michael Dooling’s popular children’s book, “George Washington’s Army and Me” which also featured his illustrations. Based on letters and diaries from the period, “Elijah and Jack” is an adventurous, sometimes humorous, and heartfelt tale that aims for a PG rating.
Starring Drew Youngblood, the film is character driven, as young Elijah pursues his father, a farmer who joins the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment during the Revolutionary War, after the Loyalists storm his farmhouse and tragedy ensues.
According to Clarke, “It’s one of those stories that leaps off the shelf. My hope is for “Elijah and Jack” to be a unifying film. It’s part love story, part American history about how our freedoms came to be. The story brings the audience into the characters’ struggles and triumphs in what they can and do endure in the name of family, freedom and home.”
The film goes beyond the theater. David Bruce Smith’s Grateful American™ Foundation has partnered with 1663 Media Arts, LLC as a #HistoryMatters Educational Partner in support of the historical drama. Grateful American Kids’ is an interactive multimedia program that is focused on restoring enthusiasm about American history for kids—and adults. That mission is mirrored by the vision of the film.
Elijah and Jack, A Revolutionary Tale feature film has included the role of Oneida Indian Polly Cooper, a female Revolutionary War Patriot, to highlight her selfless service to soldier’s at Valley Forge in 1777/1778.
Writer Michael Dooling shared: “A story about family, freedom, and home—about America’s struggle for Independence—would be remiss without honoring Polly Cooper and the Oneida Nation. Cherished by her people for her service to the Continental Army in the face of adversity, Polly aided the American cause at Valley Forge by cooking, nursing, teaching nutrition, and providing corn to the starving—making the difference between life and death for many.”
The film’s genre is best described as “Tom Sawyer meets The Patriot”. Elijah and Jack follows Elijah and his adventures as he follows his father, a farmer who joins the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment after the British invade their family farm.
1000’s of mothers and children followed their soldier husbands and fathers during the Revolutionary War, marching up to 9-miles a day under terrible conditions. They provided much needed support to the Army performing various duties, most had no place else to go. Based on letters and diaries from the period, the film is an adventurous, at-times humorous, heartfelt story with a universally relatable message of family, freedom, and home.
Actress Phoenix Bess said: “I love the character of Polly Cooper! And, I love even more that she is a real person in history. Polly’s steadfast courage and compassion are inspiring — leaving her village, traveling to Valley Forge, and navigating the perils of war are actions of a hero and a true leader. Her selfless devotion to assisting the American soldiers during the war and her impact on history are incredible. I am grateful and extremely excited to have this opportunity to bring her to life in this film. I hope that through my portrayal of Polly, her story will become more widely known and appreciated, and as a Native American, I feel deeply the importance and gravity of bringing this Oneida heroine’s life to light. I am honored to have this role.”
“Most Americans know that George Washington is considered the “Father of the Country” but very few know Polly Cooper, from the Oneida tribe and how she played a crucial role in our American Revolution. Through service and sacrifice to the American cause she can rightly be called, the Mother of the Country. I know the entire production team including myself is proud to highlight Polly’s war-time service within the film and bring light to her accomplishments. Because of the Oneida’s assistance and especially Polly’s dedication the tribe have deservedly earned the moniker, “America’s First Ally.” Said Robert Child, Award Winning Director and Screenwriter.
An Independent Film Production with Fiscal Sponsorship, 1663 Media Arts, LLC has laid the groundwork and is actively campaigning to raise funds.
Tax deductible contributions may be made through the film’s Network for Good Page. They are also entertaining major sponsors.
Producer, Andrea M. Clarke shared, “I am humbled and determined to do all we can to honor Polly Cooper within our film by shedding a much-earned light on her strength, compassion and unwavering service to the Continental Army Soldiers during the Revolutionary War.”
The vision for the film is to reignite the interest of people young and old to learn more about the real life characters, unsung hero’s, surrounding the founding of the United States of America. The story is steeped in family, freedom and home and how resilience and determination through the eyes and actions of a 10-year old boy, the human spirit can and will prevail. It’s a story the whole family will enjoy!
Michael Dooling is an author and illustrator of educational children’s books about important periods in American History. One of his books, George Washington’s Army and Me, is being adapted for a feature film. We asked him about his work, the book, and the movie.
You’ve produced a line of children’s books and workbooks dealing with different periods in American history. Tell us a little bit about your work and your process for developing these stories.
The obscure has always piquedmy curiosity—the lesser-known but pivotal moments in history about people who changed the world: like the fossil hunter who proved that dinosaurs really once existed, the first wild and wacky horse-less carriage race, young Thomas Edison’s insatiable appetite to experiment, the bugle boy who wrote letters home to his mother, or the women and children who followed their fathers to war.
Consumed by the period you’ll find me scouring the shelves at a library, asking questions at a museum, or pestering reenactors about this and that. I’ll hold the strange and monstrous dinosaur bone, examine Edison’s gadgets, doohickeys, and thingamajigs, or putt-putt along in a horseless carriage and toot the horn, Bwonk, bwonk! Capturing the spirit of an era requires an enormous amount of research and forethought. Usually, I find much more information than I will ever need but the process is educational fun, in itself. I then spend the better part of a year or more writing, rewriting, and as my old illustrator friend used to say, pushing the paint around.
For the book George Washington’s Army and Me, I enlisted the help of the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment: a living history organization, dedicated to presenting the lives of soldiers and camp-followers serving in the American Revolutionary War. This group proved to be a valuable resource in my research and is also serving as historical advisors on the film. Some of the members even modeled for my paintings.
The Revolutionary War lasted for eight years and included many famous events. How did you decide on the specific place and time frame for your book George Washington’s Army & Me?
Nine-year-old Elijah is caught up in the midst of the revolutionary war. He, like many woman and children in 1778, followed his father, a soldier in George Washington’s army. They followed the army because they had nowhere else to go or were afraid the British army might come to their town and wreak havoc. In my research, I found The Battle of Monmouth lends itself to the storyline that I had imagined. Many soldiers died of heat exhaustion and many went missing from the battle. I inserted my character into the plot and weaved a tale of an impossible adventure that begins when Elijah sneaks out of George Washington’s encampment to find his father, a soldier who does not return from the Battle of Monmouth.
Elijah sneaks out of camp in the middle of the night and the adventure begins: he falls into a creek, encounters a frightening Indian, a mangy dog, is chased by British soldiers, has a pistol cocked just two inches from his face, and even finds himself playing draughts with General Washington.
What challenges do you face in placing a fictional story into a historically accurate context?
The facts drive the story and cannot be altered. To move from one scene to the next I imagine what could have happened in keeping with the spirit of my research. Dialogue moves the action from one scene to the next. Woven around the Battle of Monmouth is a story essentially about hope—about getting home—Elijah’s Long Journey Home.
What resources were most useful to you in researching this story?
I rely on primary sources: military letters and diaries that explain a minutia of seemingly trivial but interesting facts that paint a picture of life in 1778. For instance, women and children had to work for rations. Even children drank beer—a kind of light beer made from the twigs of a spruce tree that according to Elijah tasted horrible. And believe me, it does, I’ve tried it. Unfortunately, if a soldier died his family had forty-eight hours to get out of camp because Washington felt that camp followers slowed down his army.
Did your own views and understanding change in the course of your research? What was your own biggest revelation or greatest discovery?
I have always been a home-body, at heart. A couple of my books deal with this topic. It is heartbreaking to imagine the struggles that people endured during the war for independence. Women and children pushed along following their loved one: sometimes walking nine miles-a-day carrying all their belongings, sleeping on the ground, and having very little to eat. It was an army of women and children struggling to keep up.
“But keeping up was hard to do. We had been walking since before daybreak. Two thousand civilians marched behind the army, each one of us carrying our worldly possessions: most haversacks were full of wooden bowls, spoons, plates, pots, pans, blankets, forks, knives, tankards, and canteens; most shoulders were sore and laden with brass kettles, iron pots, well buckets, lanterns, washtubs, chairs, benches, you name it. If we couldn’t carry it, it got left behind. I suspect the road traveled was littered with fine articles that at one time, a lad or lass, could not have done without. It was a caravan of rag-tag, poorly clothed suffering individuals from all walks of life, speaking various dialects: Irish, Scotch, Dutch, English, German, and some curious lingoes I could only speculate on. There were tradesmen, as well: carpenters, blacksmiths, forgemen, coopers, smiths, wheelwrights, saddlers, wagoners, bellowmakers, rope and tent-makers, nailers, and sutlers. Malcontents, scallywags, scoundrels, and women of the lower social orders rounded out the bunch.”
Tell us about the feedback you’ve gotten on this particular story and the workbook that goes with it.
George Washington’s Army and Meis a very popular book—one of my best sellers. Many teachers use this book, and the companion Literature Guide, as tools when introducing the subject of the revolutionary war. I visit many elementary schools each year and talk about how I write and illustrate and this story always touches a nerve. It is hard to fathom that someone’s life (Elijah’s) could be so difficult. So, to make the events palatable I created a character that children today can relate to: a character that plays Checkers.
“Elijah’s only solace—his only piece of ‘home’ —is occasionally getting to play draughts (checkers) with his Pa.”
It reminds him of home and of his mom: both of which were taken from him by the British army. Draughts was very popular during the colonial period and plays an essential role in the film. The game of Draughts is basically a character in itself. In the story, circumstances lead Elijah to even play with General Washington! I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say that the game of Draughts saves Elijah’s life. Most kids today have played checkers at some point in their life and can relate.
George Washington’s Army & Me is being made into a movie. How did that opportunity come about?
Andrea Clarke, the Producer at 1663 Media Arts, read the story and loved it. Andrea has a great sense of storytelling and could see Elijah’s character coming to life. It is a film that adults and children alike can appreciate. Filled with adventure, drama, and humor George Washington’s Army and Me is tailor-made for the big screen.
An impossible adventure begins when a young boy sneaks out of George Washington’s encampment to find his father, a soldier who does not return from the Battle of Monmouth. Will the game of draughts save the young boy’s life and get him home?
What changes had to be made to the story in order to adapt it to a screenplay?
The original thirty-two-page picture book is only about 1,000 words and is streamlined for an elementary school audience. The film’s story had to be expanded ten-fold: lengthening scenes, adding new scenes, and introducing new characters. Each character was developed and obscure but important facts were added that just don’t quite fit into the picture book. The film goes deeper into the lives of eighteenth-century people.
In your view, what are the most important aspects of the American Revolution that children should understand?
The men, women, and children that struggled and fought for freedom paved the way for our way of life. Home, Sweet Home.
What else would you like readers to know about your books, the movie, or about this time period?
History is fascinating and can be fun. Read the Book. Watch the Film’s Trailer. PLAY Draughts like Elijah! Like Benjamin Franklin said, “For life is a kind of Draughts, in which we have points to gain and competitors or adversaries to contend with…”
America’s 242nd Year of Independence will be Celebrated Wednesday, July 4, 2018. We are proud the underlying message of our film, ElijahandJack, A Revolutionary Tale, is universal to freedom. Everyone wants to be free from tyranny. Freedoms for a safe place to call home with family and friends.
Please take pause to remember and honor the very young soldier’s who sacrificed so much during the American Revolutionary War to secure our freedoms.
July 4, 1776 – The Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence while meeting in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Statehouse (now Independence Hall). The Congress declares the American colonies free and independent states. (Note: John Hancock signs on July 4th. The rest sign on August 2, 1776.)
Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston comprised the committee that drafted the Declaration. Jefferson, regarded as the strongest and most eloquent writer, actually wrote most of the document. The committee and Congress as a whole made a total of 86 changes to Jefferson’s draft.
First two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence:
“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
The modern form of Draughts was introduced into Europe, from Egypt, at the beginning of the 16th century. From monumental inscriptions, it appears that the game was familiar to the Egyptians as early as 200 B.C. Its antiquity is attested to by Homer in the Odyssey, where reference is made to games in the palace of Ulysses in Ithica, and by Plato, who in his dialogues made frequent mention of it by way of illustrations.
Benjamin Franklin: “For life is a kind of Draughts, in which we have points to gain and competitors or adversaries to contend with: and in which there is a vast variety of good and evil events that are in some degree, the effects of prudence, or want of it. By playing at Draughts then we learn
(1) foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action
(2) circumspection, which surveys the whole scene of action
(3) caution – the habit of not making our moves to hastily.
Lastly, we learn by Draughts not to be discouraged by present appearances in the state of our affairs, but to persevere in hoping for a favorable change, and in searching for resources.
The game is full of events, there is such a variety of turns in it, fortune of it is so subject to sudden vicissitudes, and one so frequently discovers, after long contemplation, the means of extracting oneself from a supposed insurmountable difficulty, that one is encouraged to continue the contest to the last, in hope of victory by our own skill, or a least of making a draw through the negligence of the adversary.”