Faith, Media & Culture

Faith, Media & Culture

Production complete on UP’s 2nd “Love Finds You” film + Hallmark to air 12 new Christmas films

posted by John W. Kennedy

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

UP TV continues Love Finds You franchise. Production has wrapped on the UP Original Movie Love Finds You In Charm, a romantic, coming-of-age drama set in Amish country, The film,  starring Trevor Donovan (Texas Rising90210), Danielle Chuchran (Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, UP’s Nowhere Safe), Drew Fuller (Army Wives, Charmed) and Tiffany Dupont (Born to Race: Fast Track, Greek), is based on the popular book by Annalisa Daughety and is set to air in early 2015.

Love Finds You In Sugarcreek, the first film in the romantic anthology series is, thus far, UP’s highest-rated original movie of 2014.

In this second film, Emma Miller (Danielle Chuchran) is a beautiful, young Amish woman with a loving family, a good job as a teacher, and an Amish man, Jacob (Kellen Boyle), who would like to marry her.  But Emma is restless and unsure about her commitment to the Amish faith.  She longs for new experiences, so when her father suggests that she spend the summer in Charm, Ohio with her cousin Lydia Ann (Meg Whitman), Emma jumps at the opportunity.  In Charm, Emma meets librarian Kelly Bennett (Tiffany Dupont), an “Englischer” who is visiting her Aunt Irene (Dawn Lafferty) in Charm to get over a bad breakup with a cheating boyfriend.  Despite their very different backgrounds, Emma and Kelly bond over their love of books and become good friends.  As she becomes exposed to an entirely different world, Emma become increasingly torn between her two worlds – not to mention her growing attraction to handsome, inquisitive Noah (Trevor Donovan), an Amish man who also questioned his faith at one time.

Love Finds You In Charm is a George Shamieh production, directed by Curtis Grey, and produced by Terry Cunningham.  Chevonne O’Shaughnessy and Cindy Bond of Mission Pictures are executive producers.  Bryar Freed-Golden (UP’s upcoming Paper Angels and Love Finds You In Sugarcreek) wrote the adapted screenplay based on Daughety’s book. 

 Love Finds You In Charm is the second in what we hope becomes an ongoing franchise for UP, based on the success of this year’s Love Finds You In Sugarcreek  and the continuing popularity of the ‘Love Finds You…’ book series,” says UP SVP of Original Programming Barbara Fisher,


 Hallmark’s 12 New Movies of Christmas. Hallmark Channel’s annual Countdown to Christmas programming slate actually launches on tomorrow (10/31). Between Halloween and Christmas Day Hallmark Channel is set to serve more than 1300 hours of holiday fare, including 12 original new movies.  This year’s list of world premiers includes:

1. One Starry Christmas starring Sarah Carter and George Canyon (Saturday, November 1 @ 8:00 PM ET)
I’ll review One Starry Night tomorrow.

2. The Nine Lives of Christmas  starring Brandon Routh and Gregory Harrison (Saturday, November 8  @ 8:00 PM ET)

3. A Cookie Cutter Christmas starring Erin Krakow and Alan Thicke  (Sunday, November 9 @ 8:00 PM ET)

4. Northpole starring Tiffani Thiessen, Josh Hopkins, Bailee Madison, Max Charles, American Idol winner Candice Glover, Robert Wagner and Jill St. John  (Saturday, November 15 @ 8:00 PM ET)

5. Angels and Ornaments starring Jessalyn Gilsig (Sunday, November 16 @ 8:00 PM ET)

6. A Royal Christmas starring Jane Seymour, Lacey Chabert and Katherine Flynn (Saturday, November 22 @ 8:00 PM ET)

7. The Christmas Shepherd starring Teri Polo (Sunday, November 23 @ 8:00 PM ET)

8. Christmas Under Wraps starring Candace Cameron-Bure (Saturday, November 29  @ 8:00 PM ET)

9.  Debbie Macomber’s Mr. Miracle starring Rob Morrow (Saturday, December 6 @ 8:00 PM ET)

10. Christmas At Cartwright’s starring Alicia Witt and Wally Shawn  (Sunday, December 7 @ 8:00 PM ET)

11. Best Christmas Party Ever starring Torrey DeVitto (Saturday, December 13 @ 8:00 PM ET)

12. The Christmas Parade starring AnnaLynne McCord and Drew Scott  (Sunday, December 14 @ 8:00 PM ET)

Additionally, Hallmark Channel will broadcast of the 126th Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day.  For more info about Hallmark Channel’s holiday programming click here.

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

16-year-old Juliette Turner (Jeanine’s daugher) wants you to know that “Our Presidents Rock”

posted by John W. Kennedy

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

History is cool again. Even as our cultural gatekeepers seem determined to serve up American history in the darkest possible light, it’s good see our nation’s young people still fascinated by America’s story and embracing a less-jaundiced view of our shared past.  One example of this that you might want to check out was written by Sabrina Bricker about her  experience interning at the Ford’s Theatre Education Department. It’s a really great piece about discovering empathy for President Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and other American heroes of the Civil War era. You can read her article here.
ISBN: 9780310730958(Image from Zondervan website)
Also worth checking out (especially as Election Day approaches) is Our Presidents Rock!, a really fascinating and readable compendium of historical facts and true anecdotes about America’s presidents. The book, written by 16-year-old Juliette Turner (daughter Jeanine Turner of  Northern Exposure fame)  is a refreshing, steadfastly-honest — and, essentially, positive — look at the 44 human beings who have held the most consequential job in a America — and, in recent decades, the world.  Our Presidents Rock! is highly recommended for kids and adults.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Juliette about her own exceptionally busy teen life and her personal thoughts on what makes America special.
JWK: As an honor student, singer, dancer, author and National Youth Director of Constituting America, you’re a very busy 16-year-old? How do you find the time for all your activities?

JULIETTE TURNER: Because of all of my activities, I am always busy. But I enjoy it. I am very passionate about history, the Constitution, school, but also doing activities such as dancing and singing. I’m not sure how, but I find the time.

JWK:  Tell me about Constituting America and why the Constitution is so important to you?

JT: After my mother, Janine Turner, founded Constituting America in 2010, I became the National Youth Director. As I served in this position, I realized two things (1) my generation is the future of this country and it’s up to us to preserve our nation, our freedoms, and our government, and (2) we have the attention span of a Twitter and a Vine and we aren’t about to sit down and read pages and pages of textbooks about our history and why it’s important. This is really what initiated my goal to write books that make history and the Constitution fun for my generation. Even more so, I try to apply this history and our Constitution to our everyday lives. No one wants to learn about something that will never apply to their lives. Sadly, many people my age feel this way about our Constitution. This is the root of apathy. When you begin to realize that something, such as the Constitution, actually has a big impact on your life and your future, you begin to pay attention. So this is why I have written these books and continue to speak to my generation to get them interested and involved.

 JWK: Your new book is called Our Presidents Rock. Of all of them, can you name two or three that rock the most to you and why?

JT: When asked this question, you really can’t overlook George Washington. Although this is a “typical” response, I found through my research that George Washington did so much more than people actually realize. As the first president of America, he set all of the precedents for future presidents, leading the way for our new Democratic-Republic.

However, in my book I didn’t just talk about the presidency, I focused heavily on their personality, childhood, and previous political career. Many people don’t know that George Washington was raised by a single mother for the majority of his life (a fact that really resonates with me since I am raised by a single mother). Furthermore, it was George Washington’s leadership and bravery that led the Revolutionary Army to victory and also that led to the ratification of the Constitution (for he was the president of the Constitutional Convention).

Another president who “rocked” in my opinion was Herbert Hoover, which might shock some people. If Hoover had served as president during any other time in history, he would be known as one of America’s greatest presidents. Hoover was a penniless orphan as a child but grew up to become an educated, self-made millionaire. And he used his money for many philanthropic purposes during WWI.

 JWK: Any relatively obscure presidents that particularly surprised you in terms of being interesting, effective and relevant to today?

JT: What really surprised me as I researched all the presidents is that all of them – all of them – overcame adversities and struggles which shaped their personality and ability to lead. For example, Abraham Lincoln suffered from serious depression in his youth which he accredited to shaping his sense of humor and deep faith. Harry Truman’s small business failed and Ulysses S. Grant had to work in his parent’s business because he couldn’t hold a job or grow crops on his ranch to sustain his family. By describing the presidents’ challenges in my book, I hope to engage kids my age through the fact that these men were just like you and me, not just distant politicians in our nation’s capital.

JWK: In your opinion, what characteristics are necessary to be a good president?

JT: Determination and resiliency. Definitely. There were only a select few presidents who never lost a political campaign. The vast majority of the presidents lost several, if not many, political campaigns before they reached the presidency. So many times, these men faced roadblocks that they had to overcome. This is what shaped their character and resulted in their leadership abilities.

JWK: In general, has faith in God been important in the lives of our presidents? 

JT: The vast majority of our presidents have vocally expressed their firm reliance on their faith in a higher power. As I have already mentioned, Abraham Lincoln constantly mentioned his faith not only to his acquaintances, but also in his speeches to the nation. Oftentimes the president’s leadership and faith is what bonded the nation together during times of difficulty and trial. Some of the presidents even composed writings on their faith to leave for posterity, like John Quincy Adams.

JWK: The new Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum has come under fire by some who see it as being placing too much attention on how America has sometimes failed to live up to its ideals — without giving adequate attention to when it has. How do you feel about that — and about how history is taught in schools? Are we doing a good job?

JT: I’m actually in an APUSH course right now at my school and can attest to the strong anti-American sentiment that is throughout the course. Not only is the course very anti-conservative (in my textbook I have found numerous and obvious anti-conservative and pro-liberal remarks), but it is also anti-America, mentioning America as an imperialist and “bully” nation that interferes in other countries in order to gain benefits for itself only. And this drives me insane. I’m lucky because I already have a basis of understanding of American history and a love of my country. However, I can see why my generation is becoming more and more anti-America. It is because of the curriculum in the schools.

JWK: Is America ready for a woman president?

JT: Absolutely! It’s about time!

JWK: Is there anyone you, as a teenager, would like to see run and win in 2016?

JT: 2016 will be a very exciting election year for me personally since it is the first election in which I will be able to vote. I have been waiting for this day! In a candidate, I look for an individual who understands the limitations that our Constitution places  upon the executive branch and his/her responsibility to maintain our constitutional government. Also, as a child of a single  mother, I am looking for a candidate who carries no biases or stereotypes as to how people should live their lives. I believe in a limited government and will be voting for a candidate who will strive to maintain a small government with the checks and balances of our government as they are prescribed in the Constitution.

JWK:  Any chance that a future edition of the book will include you as a subject?

JT: I do hope to serve my country in the political realm and be of service to my fellow countrymen, whether this be in the national or state governments. Really, I will do whatever God wishes. However this question will inevitably be up to the voters themselves!

JWK: Personally, I think America could do a lot worse.

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

“Lyfe’s Journey” worth taking + Remembering Terry Keenan

posted by John W. Kennedy

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

Lyfe’s Journey airs tonight (10/26) at 7:00 PM (ET) on UP TV.

Synopsis: David Lyfe is a nice guy who has it all. At work, he’s a successful banking executive, a home he has a devoted wife and little girl and another child on the way. But Lyf’es life takes a severe turn for the worse when, on an emotionally painful trip to inform several bank employees that their losing their jobs due to the tough economy, he has a one-night stand with a lonely woman he meets in a hotel bar.  Cast: Keith Robinson (Get On Up, Dreamgirls), Angell Conwell (The Young and the Restless, Family Time), Richard T. Jones (Godzilla, Judging Amy), Judi Blair (Love Always, Flight), Erica Page (Osirus, The Game), Ahmed Lucan (UP’s Where’s The Love?, Homeland),  Jennifer Gullick (Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues), DeEtta West (Between Sisters) and newcomer Rylei I. Nooks. 

Lyfe’s Journey originated from within the UP family.  The screenplay was written by Corey A. Prince, UP’s senior director, human resources.  The film was directed by Ryan Richmond, executive in charge of original production at UP’s sister network ASPiRE.  The movie was filmed in UP’s hometown of Atlanta by Atlanta-based Swirl Films.

Review: After a little bit of a misfire with the its uneven recent film Heavenly Match, UP rebounds big time with Lyfe’s Journey which may just be the network’s best original film yet. It tackles an adult theme with old-style class and succeeds telling a story of the destructive impact of adultery in a way that the recently-released faith-based theatrical film The Song, IMHO, didn’t quite achieve.  There’s no doubting Lyfe‘s faith perspective but writer Carey A. Prince delivers his story in a far less strident way.  While The Song sometimes had me feel like I was sitting through a sermon, Lyfe simply had me caught up in its story of good man who makes a seriously-bad mistake.

Keith Robinson is completely vulnerable as  the guy who sees the foundations of his life collapse after succumbing the charms of the beautiful, lonely and (it turns out) nuts Amy (Erica Page). While David (who himself becomes a victim of corporate downsizing) wants to forget the night ever happened, Amy isn’t about to let him do that — with predictable results for his marriage and ironic results for his job prospects.

What follows is something of a deft cross between Fatal Attraction (without the violence) and, one of my all-time favorite films, Tender MerciesLike Robert Duvall’s Mac Sledge character in the latter film, you can’t help but root for David Lyfe to find his way after losing everything.  And, like Mac Sledge, it’s kind and non-judgmental Christianity that provides his path to  redemption.

One of the great things about the film is how you really do understand everyone’s perspective. It’s certainly understandable why David’s pregnant wife (Angell Conwell) and her mother (whose own husband was a serial adulterer) would have such difficulty forgiving him. But, remarkably, the film even humanizes, and has compassion for, the corporate bosses who feel compelled by forces beyond their control to make the painful decision to cut jobs.

And, though they don’t show up until the last third or so of the film, Richard T. Jones and Judi Blair provide real heart as the minister and his daughter who literally stoop down to lift up David when he most desperately needs someone to go out of their way to help him. Despite entering the story late, their characters are richly developed.  You end up rooting for them in their struggles as well.

Ryan Richmond‘s direction is also first-rate, getting great naturalistic performances from his cast while providing the movie with a cinematic look that would work on the big screen. I suspect he has a great career ahead of him.

Lyfe’s Journey is highly recommended.


Fox News’ Neil Cavuto remembers Terry Keenan

Personal note: I knew Terry Keenan from the days when we were both employed by CNN. I can attest that, when Neil says ” I never meet a single crew or staff member who didn’t like her,” he was speaking for me as well. I was always impressed by the warmth and kindness she exuded when interacting with others in the work place. She was just plain nice. My prayers and condolences to her family and friends.

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

“23 Blast” is a faith-themed touchdown

posted by John W. Kennedy

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

YouTube Preview Image

23 Blast is in theaters now.

Blind faith. Inspired by the true-life story of Travis Freeman, a star high school football player who lost his sight overnight through a horrific infection, 23 Blast has just arrived in theaters (coinciding with World Blindness Awareness Month). In keeping with the spirit of the film, its producers are giving back by supporting The Travis Freeman Foundation and numerous other charities that help people overcome the major obstacles life can bring.

Cast: Mark Hapka, Bram Hoover, Stephen Lang, Max Adler, Alexa Vega, Dylan Baker Kim Zimmer, Becky Ann Baker, Timothy Busfield and Fred Dalton Thompson. Directed by: Dylan Baker. Written by Bram Hoover and Toni Hoover. Produced by:   Dylan Baker, Gary Donatelli and Toni Hoover. 23 Blast is an Ocean Avenue Entertainment release in association with Toy Gun Films.  

Synopsis (from the film’s website): A typical teenager growing up in a small town in Kentucky, Travis is a local hero on and off the field. In the fall of 1997, in the prime of his youth, he is unexpectedly stricken with an infection that destroys his optic nerve. He becomes blind overnight. Under the influence of parents who love him, a physical therapist who challenges him, a coach who inspires him, and a best friend who he cannot bear to leave behind, Travis shows us what true bravery is by competing on the gridiron, helping his team advance to the State playoffs. We follow Travis and Jerry Baker, his closest friend, from the time they meet on the football field as kids through high school. Jerry’s attraction to the dark side of teenage temptations, beer and drugs, threatens to pull the friends apart. It is only on the football field where they truly connect.

Review: 23 Blast basically fires on all cylinders through a deft blend of humor, dramatic tension and heart. In his directing debut, actor Dylan Baker (who also plays Travis’ supportive dad) shows real promise as a multihyphenate. There’s nothing at all schmaltzy in either his direction or the script by the mom-son writing team Toni and Bram Hoover (who plays Jerry Baker).  The film is extremely well cast. Baker (looking a bit like William H. Macy) and soap star Kim Zimmer (Guiding Light, One Life to Live) are excellent as Travis’ concerned parents, as are Becky Ann Baker (who reminds me of Susan Sarandon) as a dedicated social worker and Stephen Lang as the team’s rather intense-but-compassionate coach. What really makes the film work though is its talented young cast, including Mark Hapka as Travis, Alexa Vega as his girlfriend Ashley, Max Adler as fellow team member Cameron and Bram Hoover who really shines in the role of Jerry. This gang is as hot as any ensemble you’ll see on the CW Network and they’re fine actors to boot!

My one criticism of the film is its tendency to overly simplify the concerns of the school’s athletic director (Timothy Busfield) about allowing a blind student to play high school football. His character is presented as something close to a buffoon for expressing, what seem to me to be, fairly reasonable concerns about a blind student playing on a school football team.  His purpose as a character seems to be to provide a foil for the other characters and to give the movie a sort of anti-establishment veneer. I don’t think it;s necessary. The scenes with Busfield, IMHO, seem a little forced.

It also seems to me that the home team goes from unable to win a game to being one game away from the playoffs in a blink of an eye — but I’ll attribute that to my overall lack of understanding of football.

Overall, 23 Blast is a sturdy tale of friendship that tackles its underlying faith theme in a believable and compelling way — and does so without without pounding it into the ground. In other words, it scores.  23 Blast is recommended.  

A Conversation with Travis Freeman

Travis Freeman is now a Baptist minister and head of The Freeman Foundation which “exists to further the truth that disability does not equal inability.” You can read more about his story in his recently-published book Lights Out.

JWK: Can you tell me about how you lost your sight?

TRAVIS FREEMAN: I lost my sight when I was 12 years old. I had a severe sinus infection called cavernous sinus thrombosis. It’s extremely deadly. At that time it killed 70% of the  people that had it…In less then 48 hours I went from 20/20 vision to no vision at all.

JWK: Usually, I’ll ask people who have a film inspired by their lives what it’s like to see their story portrayed on screen. But, I guess, in your case, you weren’t actually able to see the film. What’s that experience like?

TF:  I go to the movies almost every week…I still go to the movies. I still get something out of it. I’ll have somebody sit with me and tell me what’s going on…The sound effects in movies are very good. So, yeah, I’ll go to the movies. I’ll watch television. I do all those sorts of things.

JWK: So, you’ve been to the screenings for 23 Blast. How do you feel the filmmakers have done in telling your story?

TF:  I think they did a really, really good job. It’s not the Travis Freeman story. It’s a movie that is loosely inspired by the events of my life. I think the movie does a great job of capturing the spirit of my story, the message of my story — which is that disability does not equal inability. It’s (about) encouraging people that whatever disability you have — I believe everyone has a disability — you can overcome it. With faith and God and in the Gospel, you can overcome those obstacles.

JWK: Were you a believer before becoming blind.

TF:  Yes. I was raised in a Christian home and had great godly parents. The year before that, at age 11, I decided to follow Christ. I became a believer and God really put me through (a lot) that year and I grew a lot in my faith. I look back now and see that He was preparing me for something that was coming. He was working in my life and preparing me for what was going to happen that next summer.

JWK: In what ways was He preparing you?

TF:  As an 11, 12-year-old kid I having a daily devotional and (was) reading my Bible every day, praying and just learning a lot about what it meant to be a Christian, to be a follower of Christ. I was just really building my faith and my trust that the Gospel is true, the Bible is true. As I lost my sight, I trusted from the very beginning that God had a plan and God was working in that.

JWK: Were you tempted to be angry?

TF:  I wasn’t. When we left the hospital, we had several doctors, several psychologists telling us that I was going to (go through) all these different stages of depression and all this sort of thing. I can honestly say that I never did. I never questioned it. I never doubted. I just accepted it. And that’s completely the grace of God.

JWK: What is your life like now?

TF:  I am a college professor, an adjunct professor, at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky. It’s a small Baptist college. I have (also) started The Freeman Foundation which is a foundation that is committed the truth that disability does not equal inability. In conjunction with that, I have written my autobiography Lights Out: Living in a Sightless World.

JWK: You’re also on the speaking circuit.

TF:  Yes, I travel and speak, preach and share my story.

JWK: Where can people go to invite you to speak at their organization?

TF:  Go to

JWK: Mark Hapka portrays you in the film. Did he confer with you a lot?

TF:  We talked some. He had actually already started filming the movie when we met. Mark did a really good job of capturing what it means to be blind. I thought he did well with it.

JWK:  You’ve said this is also story about a community coming together. Can you elaborate on that?

TF:  The city of Corbin, when I lost my sight, they really rallied around me and through the process of reacclimating myself into normal life (and) playing football. The town has been a huge support through it all. Corbin is a character in the movie. They really are.

JWK:  The movie was actually filmed there — where your story happened.

TF:  Yes, they filmed it in Corbin and all kinds of people came out to be extras and that sort of thing.

JWK:  Summing up, what do you hope people take from this film?

TF:  Whether it’s the movie that’s based on my story or the book which is the actual story or hearing me speak and tell me story,  I want people to be inspired and to be encouraged to overcome the obstacles, the trials and the issues in their lives because we all are gonna face those…We have to look beyond those obstacles and see the hope of the Cross and the hope of heaven and trust. Those obstacles, those circumstances, are temporary. I think we all too often get caught up in allowing our circumstances to dictate what we think or what we feel — particularly about God and whether or not God loves us and care for us. What we have to do is allow God to dictate what we think about our circumstances. I just want people to know that there’s hope and that they don’t have to give up.

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

Previous Posts

Production complete on UP's 2nd "Love Finds You" film + Hallmark to air 12 new Christmas films
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. UP TV continues Love Finds You franchise. Production has wrapped on the UP Original Movie Love Finds You In Charm, a romantic, coming-of-age drama set in Amish country, The film,  starring Trevor Donovan (Texas Rising,

posted 4:36:44am Oct. 30, 2014 | read full post »

16-year-old Juliette Turner (Jeanine's daugher) wants you to know that "Our Presidents Rock"
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. History is cool again. Even as our cultural gatekeepers seem determined to serve up American history in the darkest possible light, it's good see our nation's young people still fascinated by America's story and embracing

posted 1:09:29pm Oct. 28, 2014 | read full post »

"Lyfe's Journey" worth taking + Remembering Terry Keenan
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posted 8:21:34am Oct. 26, 2014 | read full post »

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