GENESEO – In middle school, Philadelphia kid Stephen Skeel made a short film on a church acquaintance, an articulate local WWII veteran by the name of Leslie Cruise.
Skeel, now in his early twenties, says the original film wasn’t great. However, it fanned a spark that would build to be 7 Wonders Cinema, the production company Skeel founded with his business partner and peer, Michael Ayjian. This Veterans Day, they released a ‘second take,’ this approximately 9-minute documentary that spans Cruise’s early life as an orphan through his happy years as a great-grandfather, with a great American military legacy in between.
“After being so enthralled and inspired by the short documentaries at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, I mentioned to Stephen that we should make a short documentary,” said Ayjian. “I had seen his middle-school film about Les. When he brought the idea up about revisiting Les’ story, we both started getting excited. After the first interview, we realized that we hadn’t even cracked the surface.”
“We didn’t go in one hundred percent sure what to expect from the first interview,” said Skeel. “We prepped for a while making sure our questions would begin a thoughtful conversation. At the end of the first interview, we looked at each other and knew we had a story.”
The National Warplane Museum in Geneseo had exactly what they needed to cinch the film.
“After our first interview, we discovered the same plane that Les jumped out of on D-Day, Whiskey-7, is preserved in Geneseo, NY at the National Warplane Museum,” said Ayjian. “We decided that we had to follow Les and his family up there to reunite with it once again. After our shoot,
the people at the museum told us about the recreational team that portrays the 82nd Airborne and helped us organize a second trip. The second time, we recreated Les’ experience of D-Day with the reenactors on the same plane from the war.”
Cruise has been aboard the plane many times at the National Warplane Museum’s summer airshows, but this time Skeel and Ayjian were there to capture his flight with the family he fought to build.
“Seeing Les on that plane once again was so powerful because of the people he was with,” said Skeel. “For a lot of people, the American Dream involves wealth and power. While there is nothing wrong with that, the beautiful thing about Les’ story is that his American Dream was creating a family.”