Buzz grows for ‘Dandelion’

Film version of Vancouver author’s novel hailed as the next ‘Blind Side’

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter



As the end credits of “Like Dandelion Dust” rolled, tissue packets crinkled, and some of the dozen or so friends and family and community members gathered in bestselling Vancouver Christian fiction writer Karen Kingsbury’s home theater dabbed their eyes.

The film, an adaptation of Kingsbury’s 2006 novel, centers on the battle between adoptive and birth parents over a 6-year-old boy. It’s a topic that struck a chord with Bethany and Allen Larson, who were among the guests at the private screening.

“I really enjoyed it, and I cried at the end,” said Bethany, marketing and area director for Christian Youth Theater Vancouver/Portland, which Kingsbury and husband Don Russell’s children have been active in over the years. “I met my birth mom when I was 25. I was adopted, and my husband was adopted, so it was poignant for us to watch.”

Kingsbury, 47, hopes the film will receive as warm a reception from the public as its theatrical release draws near. The movie will screen at 100 theaters around the country, including Regal Cinema 99 Stadium 11 in Vancouver and Regal Fox Tower Stadium 10 in Portland. It’s a rolling release taking place over three weeks beginning Friday.

“Like Dandelion Dust” may just now be entering theaters, but it has been making the rounds at national and international film festivals since January 2009, garnering more than 35 awards. On Oct. 1, it will be screened by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organization behind the Golden Globe Awards. It has already been viewed by the Screen Actors Guild, which bestows its own annual awards, often considered indicators of Oscar prospects.

‘Like Dandelion Dust’

Cast: Mira Sorvino, Barry Pepper, Kate Levering, Maxwell Perry Cotton and Cole Hauser.

Director: Jon Gunn.

Screenplay: Stephen J. Rivele and Michael Lachance, based on a novel by Karen Kingsbury.

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Rated: PG-13.

Playing at: Regal Cinema 99 Stadium 11, 9010 Northeast Highway 99, Vancouver, and Regal Fox Tower Stadium 10, 846 S.W. Park Ave., Portland.


“Like Dandelion Dust” is the first Kingsbury novel to be translated to screen. Independent film producers and brothers Bobby and Kevin Downes of Visalia, Calif., first started pursuing Kingsbury about a collaboration in 2001 at Bobby’s wife’s prompting. She had attended a women’s retreat where Kingsbury spoke and felt strongly that the next Downes Brothers Entertainment film should be based on one of the prolific writer’s novels.

If you go

What: “Like Dandelion Dust” movie premiere with Karen Kingsbury, a chance to meet and take pictures with the best-selling Vancouver Christian fiction author and have books signed.

When: Friday, Sept. 24, and Sunday, Sept. 26. On Friday, Kingsbury will greet fans leaving the 4:25 p.m. showing, will watch the 7 p.m. showing, followed by a Q&A session, and will greet those attending the 10 p.m. showing. On Sunday, Kingsbury will greet fans coming out of the 4:50 p.m. showing, will watch the 7:10 p.m. showing, and will greet those attending the 9:30 p.m. showing.

Where: The Kingsbury meet-and-greet takes place Friday at Regal Cinema 99 Stadium 11 and next Sunday at Regal Fox Tower Stadium 10. The movie opens at both theaters Friday.

Cost: Movie ticket prices vary by theater.


Their shared Christian faith helped forge a connection between the Downes family and Kingsbury, and a mutual interest in adoption only strengthened those bonds.

Kingsbury and her husband adopted three children from Haiti. Meeting their family inspired Kevin Downes and his wife to adopt a little boy from Haiti, and Bobby Downes and his wife are just finalizing the adoption of a little girl from China.

Though spirituality helped bring the Downeses and Kingsbury together, the movie version of “Like Dandelion Dust” isn’t as overtly Christian as the novel. The Downes brothers consciously chose to make the film, and its message about love and family, more universal.

“We wanted to make a film that people of all backgrounds could relate to,” said Bobby Downes.

At first Kingsbury was disappointed that the film didn’t have a stronger faith message. After she saw how people responded to it, however, her worries that the movie wouldn’t impact viewers on a deeper level melted away.

“This movie is like a small candle, but sometimes a small candle can shed a pretty big light,” she said.

The film was a labor of love for Kingsbury and the Downes brothers, a project four years in the making. Seeing it finally come to fruition was a special moment for Kingsbury’s family.

“The whole process started my freshman year, and now I’m in my senior year,” said son Tyler Russell, 17. “So the progression and seeing it build momentum at film festivals and now finally be released is really cool.”

Kingsbury recently spoke with The Columbian about the inspiration for “Like Dandelion Dust,” the process of bringing it from page to screen and other projects on the horizon. The following interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Where did the idea for “Like Dandelion Dust” come from? Three of your six children are adopted, so was that part of the inspiration to explore a conflict between adoptive and biological parents?

Definitely. I think what happens with me a lot of times is I will take on my greatest fears in fiction. I think I speak for all adoptive parents, whether you voice it or not, that there’s the fear of “what if?” What if the biological mom comes back for the child? I’m going to love this child and raise this child and then at some point someone is going to come along and say that’s not really your child. But I learned a really cool thing taking on “Like Dandelion Dust.” What I learned is that real love drives out fear. Life is short. We need to love with every breath we have and not be worried about “what if,” because the “what if” is there for everyone who loves. There’s always the risk that something’s going to happen. But that doesn’t mean you don’t love. Another lesson is that it takes a great deal of courage and a great deal of faith to adopt. And it also takes a great deal of courage and faith to give your baby up for adoption. It’s two different kinds of courage, faith and love, both of which we need.

What is it like seeing one of your novels translated to the big screen for the first time?

It’s been a phenomenal process. I think the thing every writer worries about is how do you take a 400-page novel and turn it into a 90-, 95-page script? You have to lose a lot. I think that’s always the author’s concern. The brilliance of Mira Sorvino and Barry Pepper (who play birth parents Wendy and Rip Porter) proved that you could take a look or a line and convey what I might have done in a chapter. That’s the power of film.

Is it a faithful adaptation?

They stayed right with the story line. It’s amazing. There always has to be some poetic license, but it’s very minor. People will definitely recognize the story.

Did you consider penning the screenplay yourself? Was it hard to give over control of that creative process to Michael Lachance and Academy Award-nominee Stephen J. Rivele?

Not this first time. This first time I was very happy to see someone else take it on. I have since studied screenwriting and have written a screenplay for “A Thousand Tomorrows,” another book these producers have optioned. I plan to be very involved in the screenwriting process going forward, but I wasn’t ready yet. I’ve always seen the novels as movies in my head, and now I’m excited to bring the stories to page and screen. I kind of feel like it’s a natural progression.

What was it like being on set in Jacksonville, Fla., for a week in the spring of 2008?

Both of these actors (Sorvino and Pepper) tend to be Method actors, so they really got into the parts. I felt like they stepped right out of the pages of the book. It was seamless. The cameras would stop rolling and the moment would continue. It was just so moving. It was so surreal. My dad had passed away the year before, and I remember thinking how proud he would be to see this.

You’ve said this is not an overtly religious film. Where does Christianity come into play?

The movie has less of an overt faith message than the book. But that’s not to say that you don’t walk away changed. One thing you don’t always see in a Christian movie is a PG-13 rating. There isn’t any foul language, no sexual themes, but it is a realistic portrayal of alcoholism, spousal abuse and other real issues in life. Heavier subject matter but also a lot of hope and redemption. There really isn’t a bad guy. We empathize with Rip Porter, the biological father. We can feel for his weakness. It’s the story of two moms who love the same little boy.

USA Today likened “Like Dandelion Dust” to the Academy Award-nominated film “The Blind Side.” How do you feel about that comparison?

They literally said it was the next “Blind Side.” Amazing. I’m just blown away at that. They’re very different films, but for someone who doesn’t necessarily read a lot of Christian fiction or spend a lot of time thinking about matters of faith and family, it wakes you up. It leaves you moved. The powerful love for a child and what it means to be a mom. That’s really explored in both films.

The producers, brothers Kevin and Bobby Downes, inspired your series “Above the Line.” What made you decide there was a story to share in their journey to make “Like Dandelion Dust”?

I was intrigued by how terrifying it was to make a movie. When I want to write a book, I make up the characters, write an outline and start writing. I don’t have to have money or permission or anything. But when producers set out to make a movie, they need the rights to the project, and then they have to go and fund raise several million dollars. It’s a very risky endeavor. I was moved by the determination and the integrity of Kevin and Bobby Downes to see a movie with a message made even at huge risk to themselves. They’re a couple of Davids in a world of Goliaths. We all had to take a step of faith and join arms and hearts to make this happen.

The film started making the festival rounds in January 2009, and the theatrical release is happening more than a year and a half later. Was it difficult to secure distribution?

That all has to do with garnering the support. A film that’s independently produced like this, they have to not only fund raise but build support. It had a slow simmer at first, and then it picked up speed. There’s all kinds of buzz going around now about this film at the high level of Hollywood. People have taken notice of this film, and they expect it to do amazing things. There’s talk of some pretty big awards.

Are you looking forward to finally getting to screen the movie in your own community?

The fact that we have it here is huge, and me getting to be there is great. It’s a rolling release. The first weekend is like voting. If the movie does well, which I believe it will, it will continue to roll out at more theaters.

The Downes brothers are adapting another of your books, “A Thousand Tomorrows.” How far along the pipeline is that project?

We don’t really have a time frame on it yet, but my guess is it’s still a couple of years away. But there are a couple other film projects in the works. “Even Now” is one of them, and “Between Sundays.” Those two are potentially in discussions, anyway.

“Above the Line, Take Four” came out this summer. What other projects do you have on the horizon?

On Oct. 12, I have my book “Unlocked” coming out, about autism. Bullying is another topic explored in that book. I will be doing my first-ever webcast, which will air the day that book comes out. It will air all over the world and will deal with the topics of autism, bullying and life-changing fiction. We will have a URL where people can watch it live, or they can go to Ustream and see it there if they miss it. We’ll have several special guests. We’ll have a local mother and son whose lives were changed when he became unlocked from autism, and some autism experts, as well. My daughter will be co-hosting. And Tyler, my son, will be singing a song he wrote, “Just Beyond the Clouds,” from the “Unlocked” trailer on my website. His song will also be featured on an album coming out Nov. 9. The album will be called “Unlocked: Songs that Inspire Karen Kingsbury.” I picked seven songs that are some of my favorites. On top of that, Kelsey has a song on it that I co-wrote.

Kelsey also is on the cover of “Leaving,” my book coming out on March 22. It’s the first title in my new Bailey Flanigan series. My readers kind of identify Kelsey with the character of Bailey. Kelsey has become a really powerful role model for girls around the country and the world. She started a Bailey Flanigan Facebook page and already has several thousand followers. She gives advice as the character, and it’s really inspiring. Bailey the character is patterned after Kelsey, but the story is fictitious. It’s about a young woman leaving home to pursue her dream of being a Broadway star. Kelsey’s major is musical theater, so there are a lot of similarities. She’s away at college, so she can relate to these issues of leaving and being away from home.

You’ve written about 50 books in 12 years. How do you keep the well of inspiration from running dry, and how do you juggle motherhood and your personal life with such a prolific writing career?

I’m grateful that I write very quickly. It’s that movie in my head. As fast as I type is how fast I can write, which is really fast. It usually takes two to three weeks to write a book, and I try to write four books a year. So if you look at it that way, I have a lot of free time.

Mary Ann Albright:, 360-735-4507.