Movie celebrates life, passion of photographer with Iowa ties

Cedar Rapids native Kathy Eldon produced film about her son

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Dan Eldon died too young, but in celebrating his life, his mother Kathy Eldon hopes he inspires others.

A photojournalist covering civil war in Somalia for Reuters, Dan was just 22 when a mob stoned him and three others to death in Mogadishu.

After his death, his mother discovered his journals, colorful and art-filled accounts of a life filled with love and adventure, and they acted as a catalyst for her to share his passion for life with the world. She founded the Creative Visions Foundation, which seeks to support artists pursuing activism and positive social change through their art, published his journals and developed a curriculum for middle and high school students, among other things.

Now, she’s preparing to share his story with a wider audience; a feature film about Dan’s life, “The Journey is the Destination,” premieres Wednesday at the Toronto Film Festival.

“I see the film as a spark. I believe every individual has a creative spark within them that can be used to ignite not only yourself but also others,” she said.

The movie was shot over eight weeks last year in South Africa, with Eldon as one of the producers, along with Martin Katz and Kweku Mandela.

The premiere has been a long time coming — the film has been in the works for 23 years and faced delays and setbacks — at one point, Daniel Radcliffe was going to play Dan Eldon and Julia Roberts was going to play Kathy. But Eldon said she doesn’t regret the delays — she was excited to work with director Bronwen Hughes and said actor Ben Schnetzer, who plays Dan, captures his spirit.

She also thinks the current atmosphere is receptive to the film’s message of hope and compassion.

“The time is right. There’s a convergence of the world being in a fragmented state and fear of the ‘other’ at a time when people are reaching up to their power and taking a stand and having a say,” she said. “I wanted to do a film that would inspire a movement of young people to believe they have a role to play in the world around them. I want it to be an ignition switch.”

Dan Eldon grew up in Kenya but spent a lot of time in Iowa throughout his childhood. Kathy, who now lives in Malibu, California, is originally from Cedar Rapids, where Dan and his sister Amy visited their grandparents and attended Camp Wapsie each summer.

“That experience was truly formative to his character,” she said. “This film has Iowa roots.”

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