Friday, July 29, 2011 Movie about tragic van crash exploits victims, families: mother

BATHURST, N.B. — The mother of one of the victims of a van crash near Bathurst, N.B., that claimed the lives of seven high school basketball players and their coach's wife, says a planned movie about the accident and its aftermath comes too soon and amounts to exploitation.

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Isabelle Hains' son Daniel, 17, died in the crash, which happened minutes from the northeastern New Brunswick town in January 2008 when the boys' van collided with a transport truck in a snowstorm.

Hains says she isn't alone in her opposition. She says most of the parents of the victims — all those she could reach — share her feelings.

"They said that they don't support the movie. It's too soon and they haven't been told about the movie, only what they've learned through the news."

One of the producers behind the film, tentatively titled The Phantoms — after the team's nickname — says he's sorry news of the project has upset some and is willing to meet with anyone with concerns.

"We've always been very sensitive to the situation. We are very aware that it is a sensitive story," said Tim Hogan, a producer with Fredericton-based Dream Street Pictures.

Dream Street Pictures announced last week that it plans to begin filming the made-for-television movie, produced in conjunction with CBC, this fall. The movie will be shot in Bathurst and Fredericton.

Producers say the film will be about how the remaining members of the team, and the community, rallied together after the tragedy and went on to win the provincial basketball title.

Hogan said he understands that people are looking out for the best interests of the community and that the film will focus on how the team and community bounced back the year after the accident.

"It's a great story. I think when people see it they're going to understand. If there are concerns out there right now, we're willing to talk to people to address them," Hogan said Thursday.

"That's my hometown. I'm very aware of the feelings and I would never do anything to make people feel bad in that town. Our true intention is to show Bathurst as an inspiring and uplifting community."

John McLaughlin, superintendent of Bathurst's school district, has been approached about allowing the production to use some school facilities.

But Hains says she doesn't want the district to participate in a film that glorifies the deaths of the boys.

"I am asking you, as a parent who lost a beloved son in the most terrible way, to reconsider your relationship with Dream Street Pictures and decline their offer to be part of this film," she wrote in a letter to McLaughlin.

Hains, who has lobbied since the tragedy for safer vehicles and procedures, said there's a contradiction when the province can find $250,000 to provide a tax credit for the movie while it doesn't have the money to pay for professional, licensed Class 2 bus drivers to transport students between extracurricular sports activities.

McLaughlin said in a prepared statement that he has not decided whether to participate or allow filming in any of the district's schools.

He said he is very proud of the 2009 junior varsity and senior varsity Bathurst High School basketball teams, noting that the players and coaches showed tremendous courage, determination and strength as they pursued and achieved great personal and communal goals.

"At the same time, I am constantly aware of the terrible suffering from which this story emerged, and I am acutely sensitive to those whose grief continues, day after day," he said.

"Whether our school district co-operates with the production company will depend upon the extent to which we believe this experience might further the healing process in our community."

He said with that in mind, the district has begun contacting people who were most affected by the crash and a decision will be made at later whether to participate.

Bathurst Mayor Stephen Brunet knows people in the community have a range of feelings over news of the film.

"I don't think you can ever have enough time to deal with the loss. The loss of the team, those young people and the coach's wife, will be with those families forever."

Brunet said he would like to see the movie filmed in Bathurst.

"It's not about the tragedy. It's aabout this team that came together and they probably didn't have a top-notch team, but they certainly went a long way and proved they could do it . . . It's a real happy story."

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