Faith, Media & Culture

Faith, Media & Culture

Coming Attractions: “The Boy from Baby House 10″, “Old Fashioned” and the latest from the Kendricks

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

The Russian Philomena.  Michael Landon, Jr. and Brian Bird’s Believe Pictures are teaming with Footprint Films of the U.K. to produce a feature film adaptation of the The Boy From Baby House 10, based on the internationally acclaimed book, The Boy from Baby House 10, written by British journalist Alan Philps and John Lahutsky.

Landon and Bird first became aware of the remarkable true story of John Lahutsky via an Emmy-award winning segment of  NBC’s Dateline a few years ago.  Like the book, the movie will chronicle  1990s-era saga of Luhutsky who, as a young boy in boy in Russia, was  abandoned by his birth mother at a Moscow orphanage named Baby House 10, a decrepit relic of the Stalinist described as little more than a “children’s gulag.”  Lahutsky, who is now an American college student and Eagle Scout living with his adoptive mother in Pennsylvania, was a toddler named Vanya at the time the book opens. He was diagnosed from his difficult birth with a mild case of cerebral palsy.

As the book describes it, during that era in Russia, and even to this day, children with any physical disabilities or challenges, irrespective of their potential intellectual capacity, were routinely declared mentally retarded by unfeeling Russian bureaucrats. They were then consigned to orphanages where they were warehoused and therapy was nonexistent. But Baby House 10 was the Taj Mahal compared to the adult mental asylum to which Vanya was later shuttled at the age of 6 to spend the rest of his life. That institution, situated in the village of Filimonki, was reportedly a hellhole in which children were drugged and left in steel-barred cribs.

Philps, who worked for the Moscow bureau of London’s Daily Telegraph, along his activist wife Sarah and a young Russian Christian volunteer formed an emotional bond with the bright, inquisitive, intellectually gifted boy and resolved to help him find a family. But the situation became critical when they discovered that authorities had sentenced Vanya to a life in the mental asylum where they found him quickly deteriorating.  It was then that they went on a campaign to save his life and have him released. In the process, they exposed the abuses of the Russian health and child welfare ministries, along with a very profitable “orphan industry” in which healthy children were often sold abroad to the highest bidder, enriching Russian bureaucrats.

“When we saw this story on Dateline and then read the book, it took our breath away,” Bird says. “Not just as a document of the heartless human cruelty of a government system that views life in a completely utilitarian way, but also because of the indomitable, God-given human spirit of this young boy and his refusal to give up. Despite his victory over ignorance and injustice, there are still tens of thousands of other orphans in Russia to this day who are waiting for families, and Vladimir Putin, who was in power then and is the most powerful man in Russia today, has blocked all adoptions of these children by Americans and Brits.”

Footprint Films’ Mark Blaney and Jackie Sheppard, along with Believe Pictures’ Landon and Bird, will produce the film. Bird and John Wierick are writing the screenplay.

Landon and Bird’s most recent projects include the feature film, The Ultimate Life and the successful Hallmark Channel series When Calls the Heart (which has been renewed for a second season).  Footprint Films most recently produced the acclaimed World Cup adventure Africa United.

Bird and Wierick previously wrote the Morgan Freeman-directed Paramount feature Bopha! along with the Hallmark Hall of Fame drama Captive Heart. Separately Bird wrote Not Easily Broken for Sony/Screen Gems and Wierick wrote the award-winning Matthew Shepard Story for ABC.


Old Fashioned romance vs. Fifty Shades of Grey. Old Fashioned, an independently-produced faith-based romantic drama, will open via a platform theatrical release on Valentine’s weekend 2015 when it will face off against Fifty Shades of Grey, based on the popular erotic romance novel by E.L. James. Old Fashioned tells the story of former frat boy Clay Walsh (Rik Swartzwelder) and free-spirited Amber Hewson (Elizabeth Ann Roberts) as they attempt to engage in an “old-fashioned” courtship in contemporary America.  

Old Fashioned is written and directed by Swartzwelder who sees the David versus Goliath comparison to the box office face off. “They will have more screens, more money, more hype,” he admits, “but we’re hopeful that we are not alone in our belief that there are others out there who desire more from love–and the movies–than objectification or domination. That being the case, we simply want to offer an alternative view on the topic of romance and, perhaps, even dare to suggest that there is a more beautiful way to which we all can aspire.”

Old Fashioned is being released by Freestyle which earlier this year released the faith-based box office hit God’s Not Dead which surpassed $60 million dollars in domestic box office receipts.


New Kendrick Brothers film to focus on power of prayer. Alex and Stephen Kendrick—who helped launch the faith-based movie trend with hits like Fireproof and Courageous—have just wrapped principal photography on their anticipated fifth movie in Charlotte, N.C. Described as “a family drama with humor and heart,” the film is about the power of prayer and its primary role in the Christian life. The as-yet-untitled film follows the story of Tony and Elizabeth Jordan, a middle-class couple, and their daughter, Danielle, as they struggle through personal, marital and spiritual issues. Their lives are forever changed after Elizabeth meets an elderly widow who helps her develop a secret prayer room in her home.

“We made this film to inspire, challenge and motivate families to fight the right kind of battles and to fight them the best way possible,” says Director and Co-Writer Alex Kendrick. “We have plans for everything—careers, finances, health. But what about a strategy for prayer for our lives, our spouses and our children?”

The Kendricks’ fifth film is their first project independent of Sherwood Pictures, the movie ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church and their first project shot outside their hometown of Albany, Georgia and drew more than 1,000 volunteers from 85 churches in the Charlotte area who stepped up and reached across denominational lines to support the production.  Pre-production began in 2013 with the blessing and support of the church where they remain associate pastors. Provident Films and AFFIRM Films have partnered with the Kendrick to distribute the film.

“Sherwood is still our church home,” Alex Kendrick stresses, “and we’re here talking to you now only because Michael Catt, our pastor, took a risk, supported us and let us make a movie.”

The film features New York Times best-selling author (and Bible teacher) Priscilla Shirer in her film debut. Other in the cast include the Courageous trio of Alex Kendrick, T.C. Stallings and Robert Amaya, veteran actress Karen Abercrombie (My Name is Paul, Mountain Top), Alena Pitts and comedian Michael Jr.

On personal note: From personal experience, I can affirm that prayer works.

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

“Return to the Hiding Place” to open nationwide on Oct. 24

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

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A true tale of young heroes. Return to the Hiding Place, the multi award-winning World War II action drama I raved about in May (when it opened in limited release), is now set to open nationwide in theaters on Oct. 24, 2014.  The simultaneously thrilling and thought-provoking film tells the true story of a ragtag group of teenagers who banded to form a Resistance Army to fight the Nazis and rescue of Dutch Jews marked for death during the Holocaust.

Directed and produced by the father daughter team of Peter C. Spencer (Heroes of the Titanic, Justice for the Wounded) and Petra Spencer Pearce (Heroes of the Faith), the terrific cast includes John Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings), Craig Robert Young (NCIS: LA, Hawaii Five-O), David Thomas Jenkins (CSI: Miami, Bold and the Beautiful), Rachel Spencer Hewitt (Fly by Night, A Civil War Christmas) and Mimi Sagadin (The Dilemma).

With current headlines being what they are, it’s important to never forget just how evil unrestrained evil can be. It’s also important to remember the heroes who have had the courage to fight such evil.  Return to the Hiding Place accomplishes both tasks wrapped in a story that is both cautionary and inspiring. It makes sense then that the film has been recognized by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Other honors have included “Best Feature Film” awards at the Bel-Air Film Festival, Central Florida Film Festival, San Antonio Christian Film Festival and Life Fest Film Festival.  It has also  recently chosen as the “Official Selection” at both the Projecting Hope Film Festival and Mission Fest Vancouver Film Festival.

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

“Heaven is for Real” arrives on Blu-ray/DVD and I’ve got combo packs to give away

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

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The recent faith-themed box office hit Heaven is for Real has just hit the home entertainment market.  I’ve got five Blu-ray/DVD combo packs (which includes several bonus features) to give away to the first five folks who request them at

Produced by T.D. Jakes and Joe Roth, the Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release tells the true story of Todd Burpo, a small-town minister whose young son Colton miraculously recovers from a near-death experience with vivid memories of his visit to Heaven. The film is based on the No. 1 New York Times best-selling book by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. The movie was directed by Randall Wallace (Secretariat) and stars Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church, Margo Martindale and Connor Corum (as Colton Burpo, the boy upon whose experience the film is centered). The screenplay was written by Wallace and Christopher Parker. The MPAA rates the family/faith-friendly movie as PG for some thematic material and medical situations. For what it’s worth, I really liked the film.

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

Ricky Skaggs: Reflections on life and faith as the “Kentucky Traveler” turns 60

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

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Ricky Skaggs celebrates 60 years of learning. The legendary bluegrass and country star turned 60 on Friday (7/18).  The Kentucky Traveler (which also happens to be the title of his autobio) grew up in the small town of Cordell, Kentucky where he learned to play the mandolin at five years old.  By the time he was six, his talent was clear enough that his father decided he had to get that boy onstage. The rest, as they say, is music history.  Ricky recently shared with me some of the lessons he’s learned along the way.

JWK: So, you recount your life in Kentucky Traveler. Tell me about the book. What is the message of your life?

RICKY SKAGGS: The book really is an autobiography. So, it starts very early in my life. Actually, the prologue is the story of when I meet (bluegrass legend) Bill Monroe, my childhood hero who ends up being my musical hero and my musical mentor throughout my life. It’s just a great book about family, faith, music, growing up in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, growing up poor and just living off the land — you know, hunting and fishing for food…We could go to the grocery store but it was like thirty minutes away. We loved living off the land. My dad (grew) a garden. Every year we would have fresh corn, green beans, cabbage, onions, tomatoes (and) cucumbers — to make pickles and stuff.

My mother, she was brilliant, absolutely a brilliant woman.  She was a real true believer in Jesus Christ and taught us kids how to trust Him, how to believe Him, how to believe the Bible as truth.

So, it was a great way to grow up. It was very rural. We lived in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, in Lawrence County. It was a great way to know who you were — to grow up to know about the importance of family and trusting people.

JWK: I was watching some of those Moments episodes you did for INSP. I was particularly touched by that segment in which you talk about overhearing you mother praying for you. Can you tell me about that — and how that impacted your perspective on life?

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RS: Whether it’s your mother or it was someone else, if you’ve never heard someone pray for you and call your name out in prayer — specifically call your name — it’s a very, very touching, very somber moment. Very deep. Very spiritual.

I walked in the house looking for her one time and couldn’t find her in house. I walked out onto the back porch and she wasn’t out there. So, finally, I kinda noticed her bedroom door wasn’t closed. It was cracked (open), maybe an inch or so…I remember just kinda sticking my head in and, you know, opening the door a little bit.  I saw her down on her knees and she was praying. She was praying for my dad, praying for brothers and my sister and then I remember hearing her call my name out. Man, it was just so powerful to see the glory on her face, to see the love and the heart for family that she had. It was just something I’ll never forget. It’s like a leaf frozen in the ice. It’s just always gonna be there. I’ll always remember seeing it.

JWK: Has prayer been an important factor in your own life?

RS: Oh, yes! (Our family is) praying constantly — or thanking God just constantly. We’re just trying to keep an attitude of prayer.

Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing.”  How can you do that? How can you pray without ceasing? I mean, you’d be doing it 24/7, you know? But I think that means be conscious of prayer — be in a communication with God always. Always be prayerful. Always be grateful. Always be thankful.

I don’t think you can get to God unless you’re thankful and grateful. The Bible says you “enter His gates with thanksgiving and enter his courts,” that means his presence, “with praise.” So, we can’t even until we become thankful to Him and thankful for His life in us. Then we can get His attention. But I think (when) people just start hollerin’ or screamin’ at God and say “Why don’t You do this?!” or “Why don’t You that?!”, I don’t think He hears that. I mean I think He hears it but I think He doesn’t pay any attention to it until He hears a grateful heart. I think that gets His attention.

JWK: Do you think your wisdom about such things has grown as you’ve matured and gotten older?

RS: I’m 60 years old, so I would hope that I’d have some wisdom. My daddy used to tell me that I wouldn’t have a lick of sense until I turned 40 and then when I got to 50 I might know something. So, I think there is a part of wisdom that comes with age but the things that you do a lot, you get good at. I think to be good at our faith (is to be) faithful.

God calls us to be faithful, not famous. So, I think we become faithful — that means full of faith — that we trust Him, that we have faith in Him, that we have faith that we’re not gonna make the decisions that we used to make, that we’re gonna have faith to walk through those things and the courage to walk through things that maybe before we just say “Nah, I’m not gonna do this…I’m gonna do what I think is right.”

So, it takes time. You don’t just wake up full of faith. It is a process. It’s like a muscle. You have to exercise faith. You really do because you can have flabby muscles by not exercising them — and you can have flabby faith by not exercising it.  I think it’s something that you just really have to be consistent (with) and try to work at. And I don’t mean work for God’s favor or brownie points from God. I don’t think we can do that. I think He loves us unconditionally but I think it is a mindset. It’s where our heart is. It’s where our treasure is.  It’s just practicing the presence of God.

JWK: In another Moments segment, you talk about “earning” the right to take you faith message to the audience. You suggest that by using your God-given talent to give your audience a good show, you earn a certain amount of trust that provides an opening in which they’re open to hearing your thoughts on things like faith.

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RS: I think it does. I think when we go out and really love on them, telling them that we’re so glad to be there and we play music that they’re there to hear, to watch and experience and start getting their trust, then I think somehow it gives us the authority, or gives us the favor. I’m not sure it’s the “right.” I may have misspoken that word. What I mean by that is that I think we earn their trust, we earn something by going out and giving the audience time to warm up to us instead of like a preacher would maybe go out and start preaching as soon as he walks out onto the pulpit. It’s a completely different arena. We’re going out in the marketplace where people are maybe accustomed to going to church. So, it does make a difference.

JWK: You obviously really enjoy using your God-given talent. Personally, I’ve found that talent can be an ego-driven — a way of gaining stature for yourself — but you’ve chosen to your talent as an expression of gratitude driven, a way to praise God while helping and encouraging others. How did you come to choose that path?

RS: I guess I didn’t always view this the way I view it now. When I was young, I used to think that my talent would be something that would make me money — and, hopefully, make a living. I mean when I first started playing I was playing because I really loved it. It was just fun. And then I started seeing the financial aspects of it and thought “Gosh, when I get older maybe I could play music for a living. So, that happened. Then the older I got — and the more I started playing and everything and especially, the more that I got to trusting God and realizing that He was the Giver of these gifts, the One that gave me the talent — once I realized that…it was like a door opener that I used the gift and talent that I have to be able to bring truth to people. I can bring comfort people. I can sing a song that will help someone. You know, in the audience, you never know who it is who might be sitting out there who really just needs healing and help.  To be able to be a carrier of grace, a carrier of love and peace, that’s an awesome calling.

I know I never wanted to be behind a pulpit. I used to have people tell me that I was going to be preacher…Maybe I do (preach) in my own way. Maybe I bring the Gospel or bring Good News to people’s lives but I do it with a mandolin or a guitar, not behind a pulpit.

JWK: While your music, I think, has always been positive, it seems to me that over the past couple of years, in general, has become more hopeful and positive.

RS: Yeah.

JWK: But other media, particularly, I think, television has grown very dark over the past decade or so. Do you have any thoughts on that?

RS: There is a lot of darkness, that’s for sure. But, even as things get darker, it only takes a little light to be seen in the darkness. So, I think people are more afraid of the darkness. Christians, especially, are fearful of the darkness that’s coming down when we need to be celebrating and rejoicing over the Light that’s in us. Greater is He that’s in us, than he that’s in the world. People just don’t read the Bible. They don’t their Bible and claim the Scriptures that Jesus spoke or that the Apostles spoke to us. There’s just so much (that’s) positive, there’s so much goodness in the Word that, to be able to carry that every day in your brain, your spirit will just call something out — like a Scripture.

So, I think the world has definitely gotten more cynical in my lifetime toward Christianity, toward the faith. But that’s just part of what’s coming and what’s happening. It’s supposed to be that way. The Bible talks about darkness over the world and deep darkness (among) people but a light and shine for your life has come. So, I think we need to just take a deep breath and…

JWK: The light will overcome the darkness.

RS: Yeah, absolutely! Every time! You know, the darkness is there for a purpose. I think the world works on opposites. You’ve got positive and negative. You’ve got hot and cold. You’ve got light and dark. You’ve got hard and soft. You’ve got lies and truth. There’s an answer for everything. We have to know what’s what. That’s why it’s so important to read the Bible and to really believe it.

JWK: One final question? To what do you attribute your longevity in an industry in an industry that can be very fickle?

RS: Well, I think God has been very faithful to me.

I haven’t had a physical in about 10 or 12 years until I went about a month ago…I was a little afraid that I was gonna get bad news or something like that but, you know, I didn’t go to the doctor because I  felt good. So, why go to the doctor? But I have no problems, thank God. Cholesterol is up a little bit but that we can work on with diet and exercise.

I think my assignment’s not over. I think every one of us has an assignment from God and we’re called to it. If we’re believers — and we really believe that God has a purpose for every one of us — then He can take me home any time He wants to because I’m ready to go. Vince Gill had that song (asking) “What are you you going to Threaten Me With? Heaven?” That’s such an incredible song when you think about it.

I’m not a (drug addict) or an alcoholic or anything like that that’s very prevalent in the music industry. I’ve always lived clean that way. I try to eat good and take care of myself because I know that there’s a purpose for what I do. Music is something that is still so fresh to me and exciting to me and a part of my life — that I just continue wanting to be a part of. I want to continue making good music and…taking music to the people.


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

Previous Posts

Coming Attractions: "The Boy from Baby House 10", "Old Fashioned" and the latest from the Kendricks
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. The Russian Philomena.  Michael Landon, Jr. and Brian Bird's Believe Pictures are teaming with Footprint Films of the U.K. to produce a feature film adaptation of the The Boy From Baby House 10, based on the internati

posted 5:34:08am Jul. 30, 2014 | read full post »

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posted 2:55:41pm Jul. 25, 2014 | read full post »

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