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New feature film by B.C. writer tells true story of Canada’s ‘Flying Bandit’

Project a labour of love for White Rock screenwriter Kraig Wenman
Josh Duhamel and Elisha Cuthbert star in Bandit, shot by director Allan Ungar from a screenplay by White Rock’s Kraig Wenman. Contributed photo

White Rock-based producer and screenwriter Kraig Wenman is over the moon right now.

The feature screenplay veteran – he’s sold scores of them, including many for the Lifetime Movie Network and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channels – recently learned his passion project, the true crime ‘dramedy’, Bandit, will debut in Cineplex movie theatres – including Langley’s Colossus – on Sept. 23.

The theatrical window for the film will be joined by a host of online and cable streaming options, including Apple-TV, Prime Video, VUDU, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, DirecTV, Comcast, Cox, Dish, Fios, Telus, Shaw, Rogers and Bell.

And, thanks to territory deals closed by Wenman and his production partners at the Cannes Film Festival in May, audiences will also be seeing it everywhere from the UK, France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Germany to Poland, the Baltic States, the Middle East, South Korea, Taiwan and South Africa.

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Starring Josh Duhamel, Elisha Cuthbert and Mel Gibson, Bandit is the real-life story of U.S.-born bank-robber Gilbert Galvan (played by Duhamel), who in the late 1980s won himself the title of Canada’s “flying bandit.”

Living under the alias of Robert Whiteman – theoretically a successful courier of stocks and bonds – the boyish and personable Galvan lived a comfortable middle-class existence in Pembroke, Ont. with a wife, Andrea (played by Cuthbert) who had no inkling of his real occupation.

Galvan, who loved to fly first-class out of Toronto on his ‘business trips’, always travelled with a little extra luggage – two handguns and a multitude of easily-shed disguises.

After descending on some other Canadian city, the canny bandit would pull off one or two slickly-executed bank jobs before calmly boarding another jet for the return flight, with a briefcase now full of cash.

In a notably non-violent three-year career – which included robbing banks in 15 cities – Galvan was believed to have raked in a cool $2.3 million.

But his downfall began when he encountered charismatic strip club owner and jewel-fancier Tommy Craig (played by Gibson) who had a reputation as one of Ontario’s biggest fences of stolen property.

Given the outrageousness of the true events, there’s a comedic element to Bandit, Wenman said – which places it in a similar territory to other true crime ‘dramedies’ such as Blow and Catch Me If You Can.

Directed by Canadian Allan Ungar, and shot in the early summer of 2021, Bandit also reverses the usual film industry practice of Canadian locations filling in for the U.S. by having U.S. locations (in and around Thomasville, Ga.) fill in for urban and suburban Ontario.

Part of the reason for that is that it was easier to put together financing in the U.S. – after the initial COVID lock-down – than it was in Canada, Wenman told Peace Arch News.

“It’s been an adventure. We shot 21 days in Georgia, a day in Ottawa, then a day in Los Angeles and it’s finally come all together. It’s getting harder and harder to compete with studios for theatre (space), so we’re stoked to get 100 screens in America and everywhere ‘on demand’.

“I’ve been on the phone with director Allan Ungar every day reviewing every shot, alternate take, and it’s definitely been a labour of love to bring to the screen this true Canadian story that’s actually set in a Canada for once!

Helping the production process was the fact that Ungar has a photographic memory, Wenman said.

“He ended up knowing the script better than anyone, which helped us shoot 163 scenes, with 918 camera set ups/shots in just 21 days, not including the second unit camera department – luckily our crews in Georgia, L.A., and Ottawa could work the long hours at lightning speed.

“It’s really they that deserve all the credit.”

But giving the film its “heart”, Wenman said, were the cast, who bonded as an effective team.

“Josh was not only suave, but hilarious at improv, which you will see in his performance. And Elisha, playing the heart, hope, and conscience of the film, really helped ground all the madness of the real life story. At the heart of the film, it’s really a love story between Josh and Elisha with sayings and banter I stole from my own life.”

A last-minute addition to the cast was Nestor Carbonnel, who brings a lot of energy and professionalism to the role of Galvan’s police officer nemesis, Wenman noted.

“He’s like Michael Jordan… you just give him the ball,” he said.

And Wenman said he really enjoyed working on set with Gibson, who brought a lot of his own experience as screenwriter and director to the project.

“He could really add to the lines and rework them on the page with me. Like Josh’s lines, for Mel we used the real-life dialogue of the real characters they were based on whenever we could. Like Mel saying, “I’ve got a doctorate thesis in street” which is so ‘gangster’ – and a completely real line.”

And the real Galvan, who ultimately served time for his crimes, wasn’t far away from the project – he actually appears in the background during several scenes in the movie, Wenman said.

After being introduced by Robert Knuckle, author of the book The Flying Bandit – which, along with interviews by journalist Ed Arnold, became the basis of the screenplay – Galvan and Wenman struck up a friendship almost immediately.

“He’s doing well, a free man, whom I speak with almost every day,” Wenman said.

“He’s excited to show people the insane story that he lived, and enjoys the notoriety. He’s in the background during the bar scenes alongside yours truly.”

“It’s hard to think that it all started with a nine-year-old me hearing the urban legend about it in Ottawa,” added Wenman, who lived in the capital from kindergarten to Grade 6, while his late father, Bob, was serving in parliament as MP for Fraser Valley West.

“I lived maybe 10 minutes from the real-life bandit there.”

Naturally it’s very gratifying for Wenman to see the project, three years in the works, come to fruition – and he plans to take a large group of friends to the first, 7 p.m., showing at Colossus on Sept. 23.

“It’s an exciting time to see your dream come true, a small independent film with heart going up against the big guys, much like Galvan did against the ‘banksters,’” he said.

And he has a message for aspiring filmmakers.

“Everyone will tell you it’s impossible to pull something like this off,” he said.

“But anything worthwhile is never easy. And everything’s impossible until it isn’t. Your dreams aren’t going to follow you, so get out there, chase them down, tackle them, and slap them until they submit!”

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Stars Josh Duhamel, Elisha Cuthbert, Nestor Carbonnel and Mel Gibson as they appear in promotional art for Bandit. (Contributed image courtesy of Kraig Wenman)
Mel Gibson, as shady father figure Tommy Craig in Bandit. Contributed photo

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