Film Writer & Director Sharon Wilharm Shares the Stories & Passion Behind "Summer of '67"


Based on real life events, Summer of '67  brings to life the turbulent times of the sixties and the struggles faced by the men and women impacted by the Vietnam War. Young wife and mother Milly (Rachel Schrey) is forced to live with her mother-in-law (Mimi Sagadin) while her husband Gerald (Cameron Gilliam) is away on the USS Forrestal. Kate (Bethany Davenport) must choose between Peter (Christopher Dalton) her high school sweetheart and Van (Sam Brooks) her new hippie boyfriend. Ruby Mae (Sharonne Lanier) finally finds true love with Reggie (Jerrold Edwards) only to have him whisked away by the draft. Each woman faces the question of whether or not their man will return, and even if he does, will life as they know it ever be the same?

Summer of '67 is based in part on writer/director Sharon Wilharm's parents. Her dad was aboard the USS Forrestal when it caught fire on July 29, 1967. She grew up listening to her parents talking about the Vietnam War, and wanted to pass along to younger generations the experiences and sacrifices made by the men and women of the 1960's.

We are honored to be able to catch up with the film's writer/director Sharon Wilharm for this exclusive interview.

Sharon, thanks for doing this interview with us. You and your husband Fred are filmmakers, tell us more about some of the movies you have had been involved in?

We've had four previous movies that were widely distributed. CLASS OF '91 (2010),  FLOWERS FOR FANNIE (2013), THE GOOD BOOK (2015), and PROVIDENCE (2016). THE GOOD BOOK and PROVIDENCE were both silent films. They're like long music videos with the stories told visually, without dialogue. PROVIDENCE was accepted into AMC Independent, which was really exciting. It screened at the AMC at Times Square, and in L.A., and in other select theaters around the country. THE GOOD BOOK and PROVIDENCE  both did really well on the film festival circuit. All four movies are available at SVOD sites and THE GOOD BOOK and PROVIDENCE are still in Christian bookstores. Now we're getting ready for the theatrical release of SUMMER OF '67 our latest feature film.

Your latest movie is "Summer of 67."  In your own words, what's the movie about?

SUMMER OF '67 is a Vietnam War love story told from the perspective of the women left behind. Milly is a young wife and mother whose husband enlists and is stationed on the USS Forrestal. Joanna is his mother. Kate is Milly's younger sister. Her high school sweetheart also enlists and is also on the USS Forrestal. Ruby Mae is the family's maid. She meets a young man and falls in love, but he is drafted almost immediately. So they get married right before he leaves.

What inspired you to write and make a movie about the Vietnam war?

Right before I wrote it, the news was filled with riots and anger and disagreeing viewpoints and it got me thinking about how similar it was to the sixties. So I wanted to write about how God was there through the turmoil and turbulence of the sixties and saw people through it, and He's still here with us now. 

My dad was on the USS Forrestal when it caught fire. Growing up I heard the story and always wondered what it was like for my mother and the other women who heard the news but didn't know whether their men were alive, injured, or killed. I'd also heard my mother complaining about how horribly the men were treated when they returned. The Forrestal fire seemed like a perfect backdrop for a story about God being there through difficult times. Not to mention, we love history and period movies, so that was fun to be able to gather props and costumes and create a sixties world.

You have quite a unique cast.  A couple of the actors have multiple sclerosis. And the lead actress has breast cancer.  Tell us more about the cast.

Well, the dad in the movie is a wounded war hero from the Korean War and he's in a wheelchair the entire movie. We wanted to cast a disabled veteran for the role and had a couple actors interested, but each had something else that came up around the time we were casting. So then we had Jeff Lester, a friend of ours from church who had recently been diagnosed with M.S. We were talking with him about the movie and suggested he get involved. He said, "You got anything for a cripple?"  So that's when we decided to cast him as the dad, and he did a great job. 

We also had Jesica Paige playing Aunt Thalia. She's an actress who's been dealing with M.S. for many years. She was upfront with us from the beginning, but we knew she was the right actress for that role. She was bedridden in pain the week leading up to her time on set, but she was able to get through all her scenes without anyone having a clue what she was going through. 

We had another actress, Kimberly Richardson, who plays a small role as the Red Cross worker who comes to the house. She was on the waiting list to get a kidney and pancreas transplant, and actually got the transplant the month after we wrapped production.

Rachel Schrey is a young newlywed actress who was diagnosed with breast cancer three weeks before filming. She literally told the doctors they'd need to arrange the surgery around her film schedule. So they did the surgery and eight days later she was on set. She didn't want a fuss to be made over her, so only the key cast/crew knew about the cancer. It wasn't until the end of filming that the other actors, including her leading man, found out. Fortunately, the surgery was successful, and she's now cancer-free. 

We had the most amazing film family! Everyone worked together, dealing with limitations and encouraging each other along the way. The challenges were bonding as we found ways to work around the limitations.

What are you most excited about this movie?

I was a baby in 1967, so, obviously, I don't have much firsthand knowledge of the times. I was so nervous writing the script and then directing, trying to make sure that we got everything period correct and that we adequately captured the military aspects. It's been very exciting to hear from early screeners who lived during the times and who were involved in the Vietnam War to say we got it right. The most common response we've received is that they found it healing and that it brought closure to them. So I'm excited to have more veterans watching the movies and hopefully receive healing as well. 

What were some of the challenges in the making of this film?

Well, making a period movie on a low budget is no small task. We shot much of the movie in our Victorian home, so we had to give it a sixties look. That was fun as was finding and making the wardrobe. We spent a year accumulating props and wardrobe. 

We also had to find other locations that could pass as sixties. We had a historic train museum and local restaurants. But the greatest challenge was churches. We needed two different churches. The first one we had, no problem. But we needed a church for Ruby Mae, and it needed to be a small church with no modern technology, which turned out to be surprisingly difficult. Even the historic churches would have screens and projectors. We had several friends on the lookout and they finally found Bridge Hill Baptist, which was exactly what we were looking for. 

What can our readers take home with them after watching this film?

My desire is that they'll leave feeling a peace that whatever comes their way, that God is with them and will see them through it.

 What's next for you and Fred? 

We'll spend the next year traveling to film festivals and screenings promoting the movie. I'll also be teaching at film festivals and writer's conferences. I teach screenwriting, visual storytelling, and movie marketing.  Then once it slows down, I'm looking forward to concentrating on novel writing and speaking at women's events. 

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