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Friday, Feb. 24, 2006

McGowan speeds into town

Canadian-born Michael McGowan is a filmmaker and writer, but long before that, he had been a runner.

News photo
Michael McGowan

"When I was a kid, I couldn't understand it that everyone was walking. I just couldn't see why everyone just didn't run."

McGowan's first love was the marathon, and he has the distinction of winning the Detroit Marathon in 1985 when he was 19. Even now, he loves to run, though with the success of "Saint Ralph" (titled "Little Runner" in Japan), he'll probably get a few more film offers and be hard pressed to find the time.

"The great thing about running is that you can be anywhere in the world, under any circumstances and you can still do it."

McGowan's love of running comes shining through in "Saint Ralph"; the monkish, no-pain-no-gain aesthetics of long-distance running is muted here in favor of the sheer joy of . . . moving the legs.

In Tokyo to promote the film, McGowan talked about other aspects of his film:

Why did you decide on this particular period [1953] to tell the story?

I didn't mean to glamorize the era or anything; I think the '50s had its fair share of problems. But maybe growing up was less complicated then. A 14-year-old boy like Ralph wouldn't have the same kind of freedom to make the choices that he did. Today, he'd be in a much more controlled environment. Running is a pretty primitive sport, and a solitary one, and so I thought the whole premise would work better in 1953.

Do you think it's tougher to be a teenager these days?

I don't know about that. Being a teenager has always been, and will always be, difficult. And despite the advanced technology of today and all that, kids pretty much worry about the same kind of things I used to worry about when I was their age. You know: friends, girls, sex. Remember how obsessed you were about those things? One of the things I love about this movie is that the teenage couple are bad kissers. Their faces just kind of crash into each other, but that's what happens when you're 14!

Would you describe this as a coming-of-age film?

I suppose, yes, at least I know that's what many people have called it. But it's not just about coming of age. It's more about discovering who you are and what you love . . . and I wanted to tell the story in a fairly upbeat, humorous way instead of saying, "Oh, this poor boy is all alone and his mom's in a coma." Ralph is an upbeat kind of guy, with a positive attitude most of us can only attain at 14 or so, before we lose it on the way to adulthood.

With the scandals being exposed in the Catholic clergy, especially in Boston [where part of the film is set], were you afraid the film would be seen as a religious or political statement?

I wasn't really thinking of making statements. I'm very familiar with Catholic school, I know all about that environment, so I just stuck to material that I know and am comfortable with. There's been a lot of scandal of course, but if you look at the character of Father Hibbert, you can see I'm not out to get the Catholic Church.

Were you happy with the casting decisions?

Absolutely. In particular, Adam Butcher as Ralph. Adam is a fast learner, but he can also run, and it was a real pleasure to see the joy he was feeling when we were shooting the running scenes. Running is a hard sport, and a lot of the time all that goes through your head when you're doing it are prayers.

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