The path to this point has been long — crisscrossing the country — but then so was the life of the woman who inspired it.
The trailhead, you could say, appeared when actor Carol Swarbrick Dries of Sequim asked her husband, Jim: Who’s the one famous person you’d love to meet?
Jimmy Carter, he replied.
That inspired Carol to learn more about the 39th president and, fatefully, about his mother, known to the world as Miss Lillian.
This Saturday, March 20, the movie in which Carol stars in the title role will premiere in Cinejoy, the online incarnation of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Cinequest film festival.
“Miss Lillian: More than a President’s Mother” — a docudrama also featuring former President Jimmy Carter, former first lady Rosalynn Carter, friends of Lillian, including the late Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda and journalist Sam Donaldson — will be available to viewers around the globe.
The link to watch the movie trailer and purchase tickets is creatics.org/cinejoy/moviepage/140489. Admission is $3.99, and viewers can watch the movie any time during the festival from Saturday through March 30.
For both Carol and Jim Dries, this is a kind of summiting of the mountain they’ve climbed over more than a decade.
They’re co-writers of Carol’s one-woman show about Lillian Carter, which Carol has performed in theaters across North America: from Port Angeles, Sequim and Port Townsend to Independence, Mo., Coquitlam, B.C., and New York City.
Development of the play also took them to Plains, Ga., where Jimmy and Rosalynn welcomed Carol and Jim to the Pond House, Lillian’s sanctuary.
“The first time we met Jimmy Carter, it was his 87th birthday,” Carol recalled in an interview.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Habitat for Humanity builder is now 96.
Miss Lillian’s movie, she added, is a lush work of cinematography, “based on our script, but expanded so much in the film. Its locations … a picture does say a thousand words.”
The Carters “allowed us to do shooting all around Plains, in the baseball field, under the water tower,” where significant events in Lillian’s life took place.
There’s also the train station that was Jimmy’s campaign headquarters.
“It’s not multi-level,” Carol quipped.
On March 17, she reported another piece of good news on the movie front. “Miss Lillian: More than a President’s Mother” has a distributor: 1091 Pictures, which specializes in independent film.
Netflix and AppleTV are among its partners, and documentaries in its library include “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” and “Echo in the Canyon.”
For this long-awaited development, “we are very grateful,” Carol said.
At 73, the actor, who has appeared in movies, television and theater around the world, said she’s also gratified to tell the story of another woman who lived a big life. In her 85 years, she worked as a nurse, raised her four children and, in her late 60s, volunteered to serve in the Peace Corps in India.
“Miss Lillian” is an “intimate study of a pioneering American woman. Her life as a nurse in the rural South shaped her views on race, ultimately impacting a nation through her influence on Jimmy — first as the Governor of Georgia and later as the President during the tumultuous 1970s,” producer Steven Ullman writes on the film’s IMDB.com page.
“In candid moments, President Carter reflects on his remarkable mother, who passed her deeply held humanitarian values.”
Lillian has a life story that’s as pertinent as ever, Carol believes. She was a woman who chose health care as her career despite her family’s disapproval. In her hometown, as a nurse, wife and mother, she built relationships across color lines.
In India’s Godrej Colony, 30 miles outside Mumbai, Lillian worked closely, for some 21 months, with patients with leprosy. Her namesake Lillian Carter Center for International Nursing was established by Atlanta’s Emory University.
In the film, Jimmy Carter himself recalls Lillian’s everyday character.
“Even in those early days, I got a sense of mother’s treatment of everybody as equals. She never distinguished between African Americans and white people,” he says.
“I think she would say, ‘I lived my life to the fullest. I took advantage of all the talent and ability God gave me, and I did the best I could.’ ”
She told her kids to “Do your own thing,” he adds.
“Don’t be deterred by criticism. Don’t be afraid to take a chance on doing something that seems impossible, if you think it’s important.”