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Faith, Media & Culture

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

Fathom Events and EchoLight Studios present Vanished – Left Behind: Next Generation via a one-night cinema event in select U.S. theaters tomorrow (9/28) at 7:00 PM local time. Inspired by the New York Times best-selling book series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, the production stars Amber Frank (The Haunted Hathaways), Dylan Sprayberry (Teen Wolf, Man of Steel) and Mason Dye (Finding Carter, Flowers in the Attic). Following the feature, audience members can enjoy a Q&A with cast and crew members. The event is host by Doug Fields. For more info or to buy tickets click here.

Synopsis: 15-year-old Gabby (Frank) is thrust into adulthood way too soon when a billion people around the globe suddenly vanish, and chaos engulfs the nation. The event forces Gabby, along with her younger sister Claire (Keely Wilson) and the two teen boys vying for Gabby’s affection, Josh (Dye) and Flynn (Sprayberry) — to figure out what has happened and how they fit into this dangerous new world.

The full cast also includes Tom Everett Scott (That Thing You Do), Jackson Hurst (Drop Dead Divas), Brigid Brannagh (Army Wives) and Rachel Hendrix (October Baby, Perfect Wave).

Tomorrow in this space: 5 Questions for Producer Dave Alan Johnson

John W. Kennedy is a writer/development consultant specializing in teleplays, screenplays and novelizations. He can be reached at john@jwkmedia.com.

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

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

Queen of Katwe looking good. Opening in only 52 theaters, Disney’s inspirational chess drama scored an $305,000 for a per-screen average of $5,865.  The film opens wide next Friday (9/30).

Synopsis: Queen of Katwe is based on the vibrant true story of a young girl from the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess, and, as a result of the support she receives from her family and community, is instilled with the confidence and determination she needs to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion. For 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi and her family, life in the impoverished slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle. Her mother, Harriet is fiercely determined to take care of her family and works tirelessly selling vegetables in the market to make sure her children are fed and have a roof over their heads. When Phiona meets Robert Katende, a soccer player turned missionary who teaches local children chess, she is captivated. Chess requires a good deal of concentration, strategic thinking and risk taking, all skills which are applicable in everyday life, and Katende hopes to empower youth with the game. Recognizing Phiona s natural aptitude for chess and the fighting spirit she s inherited from her mother, Katende begins to mentor her. As Phiona begins to succeed in local chess competitions, Katende teaches her to read and write in order to pursue schooling. Her mother, Harriet eventually realizes that Phiona has a chance to excel and teams up with Katende to help her fulfill her extraordinary potential, escape a life of poverty and save her family. Cast Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Madina Nalwanga Rating: PG

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8 Questions for Actress/Author Pamela Capone (author of I Punched Myself in the Eye: Stories of Self-Sabotage, Imperfection and Perfect, Amazing Grace)

I can relate to Pamela Capone. The Los Angeles-based actress is author of  I Punched Myself in the Eye (her second book) which uses humor to chronicle the small,  true and sometimes self-sabotaging moments of her life that have made her who she is. An orphan who was taken in by foster parents when she was only 18-months old, she grew up to work with impoverished girls in Guatemala, launch an acting career and raise a family of her own (which itself could be the basis of a sitcom).
1. Your book encompasses both joyful and heartbreaking instances of what you call “messays” — everything from details your rich Italian heritage and of your friend battling brain cancer). How do you see God’s hand in both cases?
I see His graceful hand in both of those situations. In terms of my heritage, grace has been all over that from the start. I was the youngest of nine children orphaned by our biological parents. I was rescued by my foster parents (even though I don’t refer to them as foster—just my parents) at 18 months old, to this day, I consider myself a rescue, and they, heroes. My life has been bombarded by sheer grace. I live my life attempting to return the favor. I’ve got a long way to go. My humble beginnings and the ensuing act of grace by my foster parents inspires me in many ways, one of which is my work with IMA, a girls’ school in Guatemala City, Guatemala. As far as the example of my friend who battled brain cancer, Stacie epitomized grace. She loved and worshipped Jesus through it all. I saw the grace she demonstrated as she suffered, the grace of her husband as he heroically cared for her, the grace of her family and friends who surrounded and supported her, who gracefully loved her in practical ways.
2.  You’re a Christian but would you say your book for non-Christians as well as Christians?
Absolutely. That was my whole point. I wanted to speak in a language that would reach non-Christians, and point them to the reasons for my faith.
3.  You seem to find yourself in a lot of comical situations. How do you think God uses humor in our lives?
I think God uses humor to help us relate to him, or maybe show us how relatable He is, and one of the ways we are made in His image. I think he must have a huge sense of humor. Think about a comic on stage. To me, a comic is funniest when he or she shares a truth we can all relate to. Externally we laugh, but internally, we’re sort of nodding, like oh yeah, me too. I get it.

4.  Explain to us your journey from an orphaned 18-month old to how God has healed your heart today.

Even though I was incredibly blessed by being raised and loved by my foster family, I really struggled with insecurity as a child and into early adulthood. I was surrounded by love, but I carried a heavy weight. Up until that time I really struggled with shame I felt connected to my biological parents. 28 was a major turning point for me. I was exhausted by the effort to trying to make myself lovable, acceptable. After a series of miracles (not that dissimilar from the types of epiphanies in unexpected places I describe in my current book), God gave me a healing of my heart. Basically, he just kept saying I love you over and over and over. After that point, I lived differently. Stopped trying to work a much for approval, and was for the first time, able to accept that I was loved regardless of my biological heritage. That was a life-changing time for sure.

I had finally accepted that I was loved simply because I was created by God, but I still had another big spiritual transition a few years after that when I finally understood that it wasn’t what I did to get a ticket to heaven, but what Christ did. That’s when I was able to let go of trying to work to get into heaven.  It was a one-two punch of getting that I was loved, and then getting how salvation works.

5.  In the book you mention being placed in the foster care system at 18-months old. What was that experience like, how did that shape the woman you are today?

I think that I am by nature an empath. So I think even if I hadn’t had that experience, my guess is that I would have still been a pretty sensitive person—But because of that experience of being the recipient of such grace—the demonstration of compassion by my foster parents who took me in on the spur of the moment when they found I needed a home—that inspires me to help others. Because of what happened to me—the gift of a home and a family—being shown such love, I feel the burden and blessing of wanting to help where I can. I consider my parents “swoopers.” They swooped in to save me, and I try and be a swooper. Their spontaneous decision to take me in as their own still boggles my mind and makes my heart burst.    

6. It’s clear from your active involvement with the IMA in Guatemala that you have a heart for the poor. Tell us more about this organization and your advice for readers who desire to support impoverished communities?
IMA takes up a big chunk of my heart. IMA operates a girls’ school in Guatemala City and I’m lucky enough to travel there and get to know the girls. As the sponsor coordinator here in the states, I get to keep the students and their private, individual sponsors here connected. Even though I don’t feel like I’m doing that much, when I’m there on the campus, I feel like I’m doing some of my most important work in my life. As far as advice for how to get involved, I’d love it if more people would become involved with IMA so that we can get our high school grades back. A few years ago with the recession, donors had to cut back and so we had to make cuts. That broke my heart. Currently we’re preK-6th grade, with a handful of special cases we support through high school. My dream is to get the full high school grades back because those teen years are critical.
For more information, log on to imausa.org or check out my site pamelacapone.com. I’ve got information on there about IMA. But if not IMA, I’d say (swoop in and) find a place that touches your heart, and pour into it. The world needs more swoopers.
(Little history: The IMA founder was just an “ordinary” homemaker who, in 1983, met a Nigerian woman who told her that mothers in her village were routinely dying while giving birth.  The founder, Tina, subsequently helped establish IMA, a non-profit organization, which means “Love” in the Efik (African) language and is an acronym for International Medical Assistance.  Tina, along with two co-founders, built a birthing clinic, then later a full service hospital, medical school and farm to feed orphans.  Three years later, IMA operated a medical mobile relief unit in India until finally moving to Guatemala and switching to education.  IMA has been in Guatemala City for the past 23 years operating a girl’s Christian school.)
7.  Is there a Bible verse that you live your life by?
Well, there are a few. I love Psalm 27:10 for obvious reasons: Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close. And another bible story I really identify with is John chapter 9, and the story of the blind man. Especially his words in 9:25 when he is questioned by the Pharisees if he knows who Jesus is—was he a sinner, was he a prophet… He says he’s not really sure who he is, but one thing he does know, once he was blind and now he sees. There is so much I don’t know—but like him, I once was blind and now I see. When I think of how I lived my life throughout my childhood and up until 28 years old, I was blind to the truth of who I was and how beloved I was by God. It was nothing short of a miracle. I was a slave to my insecurity. So like him, I was once blind and now I see.
I once was a slave and now I’m free.
I have so much to learn. There is so much more that I don’t understand than I do. I grapple with hard questions all the time.
I have a lot of unanswered questions, things I just don’t get. I’m not a theologian or an apologist, I don’t have a hundred scriptures memorized. Because of what I’ve seen in my life, I have enough proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Some of these reasons are spelled out in short stories in my book.  I have enough evidence in a loving God to believe, and enough smarts to accept the gift of grace and salvation.
8.  What do you hope to accomplish with your book? For the believer and the non-believer?
I hope to show people, by my simple examples in my book, that powerful things—epiphanies, understanding, clarity, direction can come in the most unexpected and tiniest ways. We all remember the sitcom Seinfeld, right? It was said that Seinfeld was a show about nothing, well, I think my book can be seen as a collection of tiny “nothings” that end up pointing to big “somethings.”  That revelation from above can come many ways, a gardener’s humble truck, a subway musician, a little boy who needs a button buttoned, a self inflicted black eye. And ultimately, I think, the more you believe it’s possible, the more it is.

John W. Kennedy is a writer/development consultant specializing in teleplays, screenplays and novelizations. He can be reached at john@jwkmedia.com.

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

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

Shout out for The Hollars. The family dramedy (currently in limited release before a larger rollout next week) stars The Office‘s John Krasinski (who also directs), Margo Martindale (Justified), Sharlto Copley (Powers), Richard Jenkins (Berlin Station), Anna Kendrick (The Accountant), singer/actor Josh Groban and  Charlie Day in James C. Strouse’s screenplay about a dysfunctional but loving family’s struggle with various crises, not the least of which is the matriarch’s brain tumor diagnosis. It’s funny with heart to spare. Recommended.

5 Questions for: Producer Tom Rice 

Tom Rice has previously produced the Sundance hit The Way, Way Back (starring Steve Carell), as well as the Academy Award-nominated live-action short Kavi. Other credits include Mississippi Grind (starring Ryan Reynolds) and his just-completed production of Speech & Debate (based on Stephen Karam’s hit play).

JWK: What attracted to you to The Hollars?

TOM RICE: Well, I read the script on an airplane headed back to Los Angeles from Jackson, Mississippi, where I’m from and where my family still lives. I was laughing out loud and crying at the same time…And that’s always a good sign — when you’re reading something and your body is involuntarily reacting like that.

I’m drawn to stories that have some semblance of redemption, reconciliation or social justice…I like making movies that are touching and show that we’re all in this together and we’ll get through it. Those kinds of stories are what I respond to.

And on a personal  level, a year before reading this script, I went through a similar (diagnosis as faced by Margo Martindale in The Hollars) with my dad. So, it really struck a special chord with me. And while it was something that I had gone through myself — I also had a more universal connection to it. The family dynamic — the highs and the lows — is all just so relatable. It’s humorous in the right places and touching in the right places.

JWK: How important are you own faith values in choosing the projects you go forward with?

TR: Well, my own faith values are the core of who I am. Every ounce of my world view — through that faith lens — is what I use when choosing a story, when making a film. You can’t get away from that. When something is the core of who you are, it’s going to permeate into everything you do. 

A lot of people ask me “Are you a Christian filmmaker?” No, I’m not a Christian filmmaker. I’m a man of faith who goes to work each day and I do the best job I can. I’m not a Christian filmmaker any more than a man of faith is a Christian bartender or a Christian waiter or a Christian lawyer.

There is something unique to this industry in that we have the ability to tell stories — but all truth is God’s truth. If I tell a story — and I’m telling it truthfully — Christians will know where to find God in it. I don’t think that a film has to be over-the-top Evangelical in order for Christians to appreciate it.

I also don’t make movies just for Christians. I make movies that I hope will have a positive impact on everyone who sees it… I think that God can work through the very overt Christian movies and I feel that there’s a place for those. But I also think my gift is making films that are more subtle. I’m not at all interested in preaching to the choir.

The goal of The Hollars is not to convert people to Christianity by any means. The goal is for both the faith-based and non faith-based audience…to leave the theater and go “I need to call my mom” (or) “I need to reconnect with my brother” (or) “There’s something in my life that I need to fix.”

God is still in that too. God is not just in altar calls at the end of movies.

JWK: How did you land Josh Groban for the role of the pastor?

TR: Josh had done a couple of episodes of The Office. John Krasinski was a star of The Office and directed a couple of episodes…Josh was in one of the episodes that he directed. So, we had a discussion about who to put in that role. A few names came up and, when Josh Groban was added to the list, John fell in love with the idea. Josh loved John, and the script, and he was in.

JWK: Speaking of John Krasinski, he both acts in and directs The Hollars. How did that come about?

TR: John was attached to act in it with Margo Martindale and Richard Jenkins. That iteration never came to be, but it was just one of those scripts that never left John’s mind.

So…time passed and John still wanted to do it. So, he struck a deal with the original producer, got the rights to the script, and then decided that he wanted to direct it.

JWK: Margo Martindale from Justified gives a particularly powerful performance in the film. How did she end up coming aboard?

TR: The part was written for her. She was part of the original team in the previous incarnation so when it came back around, there was just nobody else to consider because she’s so brilliant.

JWK: Bonus question. What do you hope people take from this movie?

TRI hope people see themselves and their families in this movie. I hope it inspires people to forgive and redeem. This movie is a real allegory to grace in action.

Faith & Culture Briefs

More Signed, Sealed, Delivered is on the way.

Lost Without You, the newest installment of Martha Williamson’s charming Hallmark Movies & Mysteries series about postal detectives charged with connecting lost letters to the rightful recipients is slated for delivery on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 9:00 PM (ET).  The episode finds the team racing against time to deliver a damaged letter from a veteran suffering from PTSD sent to his lost love. Meanwhile, team leader Oliver (Eric Mabius) and his father (Gregory Harrison) must find their way home from a camping trip that has put their lives in danger. 

Meanwhile, HM&M has announced that another Signed, Sealed, Delivered movie will begin production in October. Good news!

September is Gospel Music Heritage Month. The Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation’s eighth Evolution of Gospel (commemorating Gospel Music Heritage Month will be held on Monday, September 12, 2016 at 7 PM (ET) at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

This year’s honorees include: composer/producer/vocalist Edwin Hawkins, Grammy Award-winning singer/composer Bishop Hezekiah Walker and philanthropist and Kennedy Center Board of Trustee Reginald Van Lee.  In addition, The Gospel Music Heritage Foundation will pay tribute to Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The awards event will be hosted by GrammyAward-winning gospel music singer and television host Dr. Bobby Jones and Stellar Award winning musical artist Lonnie Hunter. 

The Art of Giving. Famed artist Anne Neilson will release her highly anticipated new book Angels: The Collector’s Edition via a special national philanthropic campaign launching in New York City & Los Angeles on October 10, to recognize World Homeless Day. The campaign, a reflection of Neilson’s “Painting with a Purpose” philosophy, will include “Help for the Homeless” events in November & December and throughout 2017. Neilson is donating proceeds from her sales to homeless organizations, including the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions which educates and supports those who serve on the frontline at nearly 300 rescue missions across North America.

The 2016 Justice Film Festival has announced their official selection of feature films. The festival will take place September 30 – October 1 at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in their newly restored 274-seat Loreto Theater on the lower east side of Manhattan.
The Festival kicks off with a screening of The Innocents, a story set in 1945 in a Polish nunnery directed by Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel). Other features include Homeless, the story of an 18-year old boy who bounces between shelters; 3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy, a documentary about late-term abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell; Save My Seoul which documents on sex trafficking in South Korea; Mama Rwanda, about two mothers journey to build peace through prosperity creation in post-genocide Rwanda; and Mully which tells the story of Charles Mully, the founder of the Mully Children’s Family in Africa.
Festival passes and individual screening tickets are now available for purchase www.sheencenter.org.

And theaters this weekend – Hillsong: Let Hope Rise

John W. Kennedy is a writer/development consultant specializing in teleplays, screenplays and novelizations. He can be reached at john@jwkmedia.com.

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

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

Unlimited debuts on Pure Flix VOD. Congratulations to my good friend Harold Finch.  The scientist/entrepreneur/author/inspirational speaker/film producer (yes, all those descriptors apply) has finally gotten much-deserved distribution for his faith-themed sci-fi yarn Unlimited. You can catch it now at PureFlix.com. BTW, the movie stars the late Fred Thompson (Law & Order) in what may be his last screen role.

Synopsis (from the film’s website): Simon Orwell is a brilliant student whose life has taken a series of wrong turns. At the point of giving up on his dreams, he gets a call from an old professor who has discovered a breakthrough in a device that would create unlimited energy, and he needs Simon’s help. But once he crosses the border, nothing goes as planned.The professor has been killed and Simon is assaulted and nearly killed by members of a powerful drug cartel. Now he must take refuge in the only place that will help him – a local orphanage.

BTW, I saw the film and it’s a satisfyingly suspenseful tale, well-directed and acted, that also delivers in the inspiration department — reflecting Harold’s philosophy for life and success as expressed in his book The Three Keys That Open the Door to Success.  Both the film and the book are HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

John W. Kennedy is a writer/development consultant specializing in teleplays, screenplays and novelizations. He can be reached at john@jwkmedia.com.

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

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