Jay Kanzler works full time as an attorney with Witzel, Kanzler, Dimmitt, Kenney & Kanzler LLC. On Sundays, he focuses on his vocation as an Episcopal priest. He’s married, the father of two teenagers. A one-time Republican candidate for state office, on Thursday mornings from 9 to 10 he’s a regular on the McGraw Milhaven show on KTRS-550 AM.
Oh, and he makes movies.
Kanzler’s newest film (he’s the producer, director, a writer and an actor, portraying “Concrete Worker”) is “Marshall the Miracle Dog,” which will have its premiere Sunday at the St. Louis International Film Festival. A second screening may be added after the first one was sold out.
“Nobody expects a film to sell out,” says Kanzler. “This one did in under a week.”
He says the reasons are pretty simple: It was made here, and the film community is supportive of locally made films.
The subject, the eponymous three-legged Marshall, lives here with Cyndi Willenbrock, who wrote the children’s book that inspired the movie. She and Marshall regularly visit schools, teaching lessons about animal cruelty and bullying.
There’s also the fact that, while people ask for wholesome family entertainment, little of that is coming out of Hollywood.
Kanzler talked about making films for a decade before he did anything. “People got tired of hearing me talk about it,” he says. When he told his wife, Karen, that he’d figured out how to do it, her response was a cynical “Sure.”
But Kanzler did have it figured out. He was chairman of the board of Circus Flora; he knew the famous flying (and tightrope-walking) Wallenda family. In 2004, he made “A Magical Life: Circus Flora.”
“I gathered up good people around me,” including Brian Hohlfeld, a writer and producer who penned the 1991 comedy “He Said, She Said.”
“We did it, and I loved it — the whole process, the creative storytelling.” He went on to direct and write scripts for a string of films, from documentaries to an animated film.
Then came “Marshall.”
“Marshall was taken by a dog hoarder from southwest Missouri,” Kanzler says; he was kept with about 60 or so other dogs in “pretty deplorable” conditions.” Animal Planet’s “Confessions: Animal Hoarding” did an episode on the situation, and an intervention. The dogs were taken in by the Humane Society. Willenbrock took Marshall.
“He was in such horrible shape,” says Kanzler. “He had been attacked by other dogs and bullied. They had to do surgery and amputate his leg. He died three times on the operating table, but they brought him back each time. That’s how he earned his nickname.”
Willenbrock and Marshall visit schools as “a way of teaching kindness and character — all these good traits. Anti-bullying is really the message: How do you stand up to bullying? It’s pretty amazing how Marshall connects with the kids, especially the kids with disabilities. ‘I’m a little bit different; Marshall’s different, and he’s OK; I’m OK, too.’”
The film was shot in Illinois, to take advantage of tax credits, and stars four Hollywood actors: Lauren Holly (“Dumb and Dumber”), Shannon Elizabeth (“American Pie”), Matthew Settle (“Gossip Girl”) and St. Louis native Bill Chott (“The Wizards of Waverly Place”). The dogs were from LA as well.
“For 90 percent of the movie, the dog has four legs,” Kanzler explains. “We do get to see the real Marshall at the end.”
Things are looking good for the film. “We’re negotiating (distribution) right now,” says Kanzler, “both domestically and internationally, to see where it goes next.”
He raised most of the money locally: “The investors liked the movie, but they loved the message,” he said. “It’s something you can get behind.”