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

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

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