Life story: Lawrence native’s film opens across U.S.

Director Alonso Mayo, a Lawrence native, watches a monitor on the set of his debut feature film “The Story of Luke.” The film, about a young man with a high-functioning developmental disability, was inspired by Mayo’s experiences traveling to Lima, Peru, with his mother, who worked at an organization that provides special education and services to people with developmental disabilities.

Lou Taylor Pucci and Seth Green are shown in a scene from “The Story of Luke.”

From left, director Alonso Mayo, actress Kristin Bauer and actor Cary Elwes chat between filming scenes on “The Story of Luke.”

If you go

Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St., will be screening Lawrence native Alonso Mayo’s “The Story of Luke” at 7 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $8 for adults, $7 for students/military and $6 for seniors.

Alonso Mayo always enjoyed movies when he was growing up, but it wasn’t until he took some media production classes at Lawrence High School that he began to actually put films together. By the time he graduated in 1996, he had worked on fake newscasts, mini documentaries and very short fiction films.

Mayo’s first feature-length film, “The Story Of Luke” — starring Lou Taylor Pucci, Seth Green, and Cary Elwes — opens Friday in 18 cities across the country, including a 7 p.m. screening at Liberty Hall.

“The Story of Luke” is a comedy about a young man (Pucci) with a high-functioning developmental disability who embarks on a journey to get a girlfriend and a job — something that many people take for granted. For Mayo, however, this “odyssey” was personal. He finished the first draft of the script in 2007, inspired by the remarkable young men and women that he had been around all his life.

“Alonso grew up interacting with people with different abilities since he was very young,” says his mother, Dr. Liliana Mayo. “He has become lasting friends with some and has witnessed and understood their successes and frustrations as they enter into society as active members.”

Alonso spent his childhood shuttling back and forth between Lawrence and Lima, Peru, where his mother is the director of the nonprofit Centro Ann Sullivan del Peru — an organization that provides special education and services to people with developmental disabilities such as autism and Down syndrome. Dr. Mayo also received her master’s degree and doctorate from Kansas University after studying in the department of human development and family life.

“I’ve been back and forth a lot. It’s been six months here, six months there, all through school,” Mayo says. “Then I went back to Peru and stayed there through my undergraduate.”

While working on his journalism and film degree at the University of Lima in Peru, Alonso was hired to make some training videos for professionals at the Centro that were aimed at helping kids with developmental disabilities get integrated into the workforce. It was a formative experience, but the idea for “The Story of Luke” didn’t hit him until much later.

Alonso pursued film further, eventually graduating with an master’s degree in directing from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles (where he also received a Student Academy Award for a short film called “Wednesday Afternoon”). It was on a subsequent trip to Lima that he saw many of the kids he had worked with on the training videos who now were meeting the challenges of adulthood head on.

“They were falling in love, they wanted to be more independent, and they were asking some tough questions for their families,” he says. “Why can’t I do this or that? Why are my brothers getting married? Why can’t I live on my own? It was very interesting to see that change.”

Having directed mainly dramas and thriller shorts, Alonso wasn’t sure he could tackle this subject in a feature-length film, but his wife, who is also a producer on “The Story of Luke,” convinced him that he had unique insight into what the Centro calls “people with different abilities.”

Like any independent film project, this one has been through many false starts and funding issues, but Alonso’s script, which tackles the usually heavy topic with a lighter touch, eventually went into production after attracting some top-notch Hollywood talent, including “Austin Powers” co-star and “Robot Chicken” executive producer Seth Green.

“Alonso came and met with me after I’d read the script and told me how he planned to do it — and he had an aching sincerity and a real love for this idea and had a great a point of view that I didn’t feel was saccharine or manipulative,” Green says. “It was just a very matter-of-fact representation of what felt like a real-life situation.”

In addition to opening in limited release across the country Friday, “The Story of Luke” is being released via Video On Demand platforms and iTunes. Alonso is on a full-court press promotional tour right now, but Dr. Liliana Mayo will be on hand at Friday night’s Liberty Hall screening to give an introduction to the film.