- - Saturday, October 7, 2017

Hollywood filmmaker Mitch Davis had been living his dream of making family films when his own family began falling apart. The projects he had worked on — “Dead Poets Society,” “The Rocketeer,” “White Fang” and “Newsies” — had gotten him plenty of attention, but long hours at the studio translated into lost time with his wife and three young children, and even when he was home, Mr. Davis poured through piles of scripts seeking out the next blockbuster.

“I realized that my family was suffering,” Mr. Davis said.

Mr. Davis thought a stop-gap measure might be a lovable family pet, but his wife wouldn’t have it.

“She thought that was just about as brilliant as most of my brilliant ideas are,” Mr. Davis quipped.

Still, Mr. Davis‘ wife allowed an improbable loophole: If a stray came their way, she’d agree to take the dog in. So when, a few weeks later, a dog followed the couple’s oldest son home, the family took in Pluto, a fitting name considering Mr. Davis‘ first job after graduating the University of Southern California was at Disney Studios.

Pluto’s joining the family is recreated in Mr. Davis‘ new film, “The Stray,” now playing in District-area theaters.

“He set about kind of healing our family in odd ways,” Mr. Davis said. “When you get a dog, you start taking walks, so our family was taking walks together.

“He was doing small things to heal our family. When I came home from work at two in the morning, he wanted to wrestle. He helped me to see the things that matter most.”

Mr. Davis found what mattered most was moving from Tinseltown to Franktown, Colorado, where the family could get a fresh start on five bucolic acres — with Pluto in tow.

“Our life couldn’t have been more different than it was in Los Angeles,” Mr. Davis said. “Our family healed [more] each day.”

Mr. Davis switched to a career in sales, but constantly confronted by marquees hawking the latest picture stirred the old artistic desires.

The former Angeleno had stayed in touch with his Hollywood friends and colleagues while writing scripts on the side. In 1993 his script “Windrunner” was picked up by the Disney Channel and Warner Home Video. And in 1999 he wrote, directed and executive-produced his first faith-based film, “The Other Side of Heaven,” which was also the first film for later Oscar winner Anne Hathaway.

While the move to Colorado improved his family life and did not deter him from making films, it did nearly cost him his life. Eager to explore the outdoors, Mr. Davis took his two sons and Pluto on a camping trip above 11,000 feet.

“We were not just off the beaten path, we were out there,” Mr. Davis said.

A storm blew in and lightning struck their tent, shocking both Mr. Davis and Pluto, and leaving Mr. Davis unconscious.

“When I was struck, they were terrified,” Mr. Davis said of his sons and their friend left to tend to the unconscious man.

The near-death expereince is a central part of “The Stray.” Mr. Davis co-wrote and directed the film, which stars Michael Cassidy as a fictionalized version of Mr. Davis, and relates how

Pluto saved a lost toddler, brought comfort and companionship to a hurting 9-year-old boy (Connor Corum from “Heaven Is for Real), helped restore a marriage and repaired a broken father-son relationship.

Mr. Davis said “The Stray” aims to show the importance of leaning on faith but without being heavy-handed.

“Faith is very much a part of this story,” he said. “We didn’t exaggerate the faith, and we didn’t diminish the faith. We just told it like it was.”

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