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