By Cecily Markland
On May 9, 1986, David and Doris Young walked into an elementary school in the small ranching town of Cokeville, Wyoming. With them, they had guns and a bomb. While Doris used the promise of a treat to lure the 154 students and teachers into one classroom, David readied the homemade bomb for detonation.
What happened from there left the entire community reeling—many struggling with massive misgivings, but almost all marveling at what they could only quantify as divine intervention.
Now, three decades later, cinematographer and director T. C. Christensen —known for “Ephraim’s Rescue,” “17 Miracles,” “Forever Strong” and more—brings the true story of “The Cokeville Miracle” to the big screen.
One if the six teachers is played by Nanci Wudel, of the Mesa 30th Ward, Mesa East Stake.
Nanci graduated in journalism with a theater arts minor from Brigham Young University. She was the Director of Etiquette and Personal Development at the Provo Missionary Training Center and serves as a public relations and etiquette consultant for businesses and universities.
The Mesa Easter Pageant director for nine years, Nanci also directed The Finalists Show for NBC’s America’s Got Talent and judges state competitions for the Miss America Pageant. She has a keen eye for how individuals represent themselves, and, particularly, how things look on stage and on camera.
“I honestly don’t think T. C. has the capability to produce anything that isn’t powerful and moving and inspirational. He’s so talented and such an amazing man,” Nanci says. “After working with him on ‘The Cokeville Miracle,’ T. C. is my new filmmaking hero.”
She was particularly impressed with the care and concern he had for the survivors and the residents of Cokeville. Early in the process, Christensen read the initial script at a Cokeville Town Council meeting. “A lot said ‘no,’ they didn’t like the first script. It was still too tender, still too hurtful for them,” Nanci says.
“This film is not ‘based on’ or ‘inspired by’ a true story, it is the true story, and T. C. wanted it to reflect the facts as well as the true feelings people had,” Nanci says.
Not only did he revise the script, he invited any of the survivors to be on the set at any time during the filming and he used many of their children as extras.
Many took advantage of the opportunity to observe. Not only did Nanci get to meet the teacher she plays in the film, she talked with many others who visited the set.
“They said, ‘watching this portrayed has given us closure’ and many of them told us ‘thank you’ for the way it was portrayed.”
There was a special feeling among the cast and crew as well, Nanci says. “Behind the scenes there was not one negative experience at all. There was nothing but love, kindness and appreciation.”
Nanci acted through the Ford Agency for over 20 years, but left because she wanted to do faith-based films only and now focuses on scriptwriting, directing and producing. She enjoyed the idea of acting again if only “for the fun and challenge,” but, as it turned out, it was much more.
She hadn’t seen the final cut, so “I don’t know how much of me is still in there,” but says it doesn’t matter. In fact, she and other cast members had discussed that. “None of us cared if we had close ups or if we were left on the cutting room floor. It was just such an awesome experience to be a part of.”
“The Cokeville Miracle” opens in Arizona and across the nation June 5. For more, visit www.facebook.com/CokevilleTheMovie on Facebook.