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Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s this week’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and culture:

The Man Who Loves Movies. With the faith-themed romantic drama Forever My Girl due to hit theaters this Friday (Jan. 19) and two other inspirational dramas stacked and ready to go right behind it (I Can Only Imagine on March 16 and The Miracle Season on April 18), Pete Shilaimon of LD Entertainment has got to be counted as one of the more prolific movie producers around. His recently credits include the psychological thriller Jacob’s Ladder and World War II drama The Zookeeper’s Wife in 2017 and the 2016 biopic Jackie starring Natalie Portman in the eponymous role of the late first lady.  I recently had the opportunity to chat with him about his current slate.

JANUARY 19, 2018: FOREVER MY GIRL

JWK: How did Forever My Girl come about as a film?

PETE SHILAIMON: Forever My Girl came to us as a book first. About four and a half years ago one of our assistants gave it to me to read. I read it and fell in love with the story and the Prodigal Son angle…(So) we turned around and made it into a film about forgiveness (and) redemption…(It’s) really the Prodigal Son through the lens of the country world…That’s why that last song, Finally Home, is so incredible to me. You don’t realize what you have until you go away and find out that it’s really not all that out there. (Then) you go home and find that love, support and forgiveness all around you. So, that’s what I love about this story — that you can always come back home.

MARCH 16, 2018: I CAN ONLY IMAGINE

JWK: Tell me about I Can Only Imagine.

PS: The Erwin Brothers (October Baby) came to us to see if we could help with production costs and the distribution part of it. We are very fortunate to be part of the wonderful production team of I Can Only Imagine (based on) the number-one Christian song. It’s a beautiful story about (going through) abuse and coming out at the end and doing okay. It’s an incredible story of one young man’s journey. That ending of that film will have you sobbing. It’s a beautifully made film with a beautiful message.

APRIL 13, 2018: THE MIRACLE SEASON

JWK: And how about a few words about The Miracle Season with Helen Hunt and William Hurt?

PS: That is very, very dear to me. I went to Iowa to chase the story. It was the most incredibly fortunate experience I ever had as a producer. I got to meet with the (real-life) coach (Kathy Bresnahan) and the father (Ernie Found). We begged and begged them to give us this incredible story of a man losing not only his daughter but his wife within a month of each other. The story is also about an incredible volleyball team that had won the state championship the year before and were poised to win again but after their first game they lose their star player and her mother (soon after) passes away from cancer. It’s really about strong women, a strong volleyball team, coming together and basically saying we are going to rise and we are going to win for us, we’re going to win for Caroline (Found) and we’re going to win for our community. It has a beautiful faith-based element with the father’s questioning of God.

JWK: Is this an unusually busy time for you to have three films coming out so close together?

PS: We’re completely blessed…It’s an incredibly busy time but the company is growing and we keep on getting incredible films and scripts sent to us to make. We’re very fortunate to be in the position we are.

JWK: What do you look for in a film when you’re choosing what to include on your slate?

PS: Story. Absolute story. We produced Risen. I made that movie for my mom but after Risen it was one of those situations for me where I decided I really wanted to make incredible films not only for faith-based audiences but also for mainstream America. What we found out with Risen was that if you make a good film, everyone will show up…I don’t want to make films that feel like we’re putting very little money into it and giving the audience an experience that is not to my standards. I feel like if you’re going to get someone to pay and come see you movie, you should give them the best (value).  I like story and all the people I hire have incredible artistic taste. We did Jackie and The Zookeeper’s Wife. Those movies were about getting the best quality (on screen).

We’ve made some films that weren’t that great, to be honest. But, right now, we’re hitting our stride and we’re making wonderful films that I feel speak for the company and, of course, the audience.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Here’s this week’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and culture:

Move over Marvel Universe: Taylor James, recently seen as a military messenger from Atlantis in Zack Snyder’s Justice League film, stars as Samson, perhaps the word’s first superhero. The action-packed biblical epic also stars Billy Zane, Rutger Hauer, Jackson Rathbone and Caitlin Leahy, The film, which opens nationwide on February 16, also features Lindsay Wagner who gained fame playing the TV superhero The Bionic Woman.

For those of you who may not know the Samson story as found in The Bible, it’s the tale of a hero chosen by God whose supernatural strength and impulsive decisions quickly pit him against the oppressive Philistine empire.

Samson was filmed on location in South Africa and is a production of Pure Flix (The Case for Christ, God’s Not Dead).

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Here’s this week’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and culture:

The faith-based film powerhouse Pure Flix is announcing an Easter weekend release for God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness.

The third film of the financially-successful GND franchise filmed on location in Little Rock, Arkansas and stars David A.R. White and Shane Harper returning to their roles in the original film. New to the cast are John Corbett (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Ted McGinley (Married with Children), Jennifer Taylor (Two and a Half Men) and Tatum O’Neal (Paper Moon).

Plot Synopsis:

GOD’S NOT DEAD: Pastor Dave (David A.R. White) faces tragedy when his church, located on the grounds of the local university, is burned down.
Literally adding insult to injury, his plan to rebuild faces an unexpected setback when university reject the idea on grounds that the church is no longer relevant in today’s society. Trusting in the motto that he has lived by that “God is good all the time,” Pastor Dave enlists the legal help of his estranged attorney brother Pearce (John Corbett) who is an atheist. As they work together, they come to understand that not every victory requires defeating the opposition, and there is a greater win when you heal and rebuild with compassion and respect for others.

FYI: Moviegoers can follow the film on the official web site at www.GodsNotDead.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GodsNotDeadTheMovie, or on Twitter @GodsNotDeadFilm.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Here’s the latest dispatch from the crossroads of faith and culture:

With the passing of Della Reese, Touched by an Angel executive producer Martha Williamson had this sent my way to share with Beliefnet readers.

REMEMBERING DELLA REESE
“When you walk down the road
Heavy burden, heavy load
I will rise and I will walk with you
Walk with you
‘Til the sun don’t shine
Walk with you every time
Believe me
I will walk with you…”
“Touched By An Angel” theme song

Della Reese was a brilliantly funny and profoundly moving actor, an unforgettably talented, mesmerizing singer, a savvy talk-show host, a dedicated
minister, and the star of a top-ten television hit. But most of all, she was an undeniable one-woman enterprise selling one precious product – the fierce love of an ever-loving God whom she lived to serve and share. And she shared that unshakeable faith of hers wherever she walked – onto a film set, into an elevator, down an airport concourse or a grocery store aisle. If you saw Della Reese heading your way, you knew something was going to change.

It’s the way she walked into a room that I will remember most. There was the room before Della entered. And then it was us in Della’s room. If the sheer magnitude of her powerful presence wasn’t enough to announce her arrival, there was always the liberal bestowing of hugs and blessings. “God bless you today.” “God bless you today.” “God bless you today.” And when Della said it, it wasn’t a greeting,
it was a command – an exhortation to stop and acknowledge that you were, in fact,
blessed, so you’d better shape up and live like it.

Once, on the set of “Touched By An Angel,” a guest star found himself unable to continue shooting an emotionally-charged “revelation” scene in which Della’s character, Tess, reveals herself as an angel with a message of forgiveness from God. When I took the actor aside, he broke into tears and said he’d just spent two years writing a play to promote atheism, and in the space of twenty minutes performing one scene on camera with Della Reese, his entire belief system had been shaken. “I may have just wasted two years of my life. That woman really believes. And I’m
starting to believe her.”

Della Reese stepped into the role of Tess with the natural ease that the rest of us step into a favorite pair of slippers. Sharing the good news of God’s love was as comfortable and familiar to her as walking and talking and breathing. And yet, her pitch-perfect portrayal for nine years of a no-nonsense, straight-talking, uncompromising angel was formed over decades of struggle and sacrifice and single-minded determination to beat the odds.

During a career that spanned seven decades, through wars and civil rights, hardship and success, she survived. She survived the days when a black woman could sing in a luxury hotel but wasn’t allowed to stay there. She survived life threatening injuries and a devastating stroke. She survived heartbreaking personal and professional loss. And through it all, she steadfastly held to her faith that she was born with a purpose to fulfill and that each step she took in this life would never be taken alone.

What a blessing that for nine years we got to walk along with her as she and her beloved angel daughter Roma Downey reminded the world every Sunday night that excellence isn’t easy, that love is a choice and must be fought for and defended with truth and integrity and faith. And, of course, that God loves you.

“God bless you today” as you remember Della. And know that even now, she is walking where she was always planning to walk forever – alongside her Creator.
With love,
Martha Williamson