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Old Fred (Ron Reid) and his pet goat, Gracie, welcome New York bartender/movie maker Garth (Micah Brown) to their little Alabama town (which is actually Ashland) in the film "Shooting the Prodigal." (Photo courtesy Belltower Pictures)
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A romantic interest develops between preacher's kid Emily Cross (Christie Osterhus) and filmmaker Josh Blume (Sterling Hurst) in "Shooting the Prodigal." (Photo courtesy Belltower Pictures)
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Lead actor Sterling Hurst talks with director David Powers in "Shooting the Prodigal." (Photo courtesy Belltower Pictures)
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Producers Ken Roy (left) and Heather Waters (second from right) with actresses Daphne Maxwell Reid (second from left) and Pepi Streiff (right). (Photo courtesy Belltower Pictures)
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Joseph Gray as Noah Thatcher in "Shooting the Prodigal" (Photo courtesy Belltower Pictures)
(UPDATE, Aug. 16, 2016: "Shooting the Prodigal," filmed in and around Richmond and Ashland last summer and screened earlier this year at the Richmond International Film Festival, will be released today on DVD, digital platforms and on cable on-demand nationwide.)
(UPDATE, April 5, 2016: A screening of "Shooting the Prodigal" will be held Friday, April 8, at 7:20 p.m. at Movieland, 1301 N. Boulevard. A Q&A session with director David Powers, the film's producers and cast will follow the screening. According to one of the film's producers, Heather Waters, a partnership with Movieland's parent company, Bow Tie Cinemas, may allow for the film to be shown in additional theaters in the Mid-Atlantic region. Stay tuned!)
Originally published March 4, 2016
So you heard the one about the Baptist preacher, the Jewish filmmaker and the African-American bartender?
Turns out that they’re characters in a movie called "Shooting The Prodigal" that premiered last night at The Byrd Theatre as part of the fifth annual Richmond International Film Festival. The event’s fare is screening here at various venues and continues throughout the weekend. True to its name, the festival includes films from around the world, but also several made here in Central Virginia with regional talent. One of the producers of "Shooting the Prodigal" is the festival organizer, Heather Waters.
Did you miss seeing "Prodigal" at the Byrd under the giant chandelier, with a big audience to laugh at an eccentric fellow and his pet goat and to lapse into silence during a minister’s crisis of faith when his cockamamie idea of having his church make a faith-based movie seems to have gone fatally awry? No worries. You’ll eventually be able to see the work of director David Powers and his cast and crew through Tugg.com, which arranges cinema-on-demand, and Virgil Films and Entertainment for DVD, digital, broadcast and ancillary distribution.
I mention this because as Powers, the co-writer/director and president of Richmond-based Belltower Pictures, can tell you, the easy part – and it took six years – was making the movie. Raising the money for the production and finding the distribution mechanisms, the promotion and the logistics of just getting the film into the world, are challenging and time-consuming. Sometimes, that there is an actual attempt at art in the middle of all the effort shimmers as a beautiful stone beneath clear, but extremely deep, water.
“It’s a miracle that any movie gets made and seen by anybody,” Powers says. “There’s such a variety of moving parts, all the people who must collaborate, the struggle to get the film seen. Making the movie really is the easy part.”
The big studio octo-plex films need star power and massive promotion to make any money. Which is why we are seeing so many films based in comic book mythology, the canon of old television shows and familiar terrain.
These days, a smaller production company that designs a film to head to DVD and possibly get into multi-platform delivery — like Netflix and iTunes — allows for targeted marketing to a select audience. In the case of "Prodigal," Powers wanted to break away from faith-based movies that essentially reinforce what its audience already believes. “We’re not trying to convert anybody with this film,” he says. “This is, we hope, a good enough story that even if you don’t care anything about church, you’ll like the movie.”
The DNA of Powers’ film can be traced to Christopher Guest mockumentaries like "Waiting For Guffman," New Yorker goes south, fish-out-of-water stories like "Doc Hollywood" and "My Cousin Vinny," and, yes, a heaping helping of some Hallmark feel-goodness. Retired journalist and late-career actor John Witt, who appears in the film as one of the controlling church elders critical of Brother Bob’s movie idea, remarked, “It’s a movie made by sinners for sinners with a sense of humor.”
After fits-and-starts of production, a final successful online funding push resulted in the shooting of the film in and around Richmond and Ashland last summer. For a Richmond audience, it might prove somewhat disorienting to see “the Center of the Universe” redressed as fictional Homer, Alabama. You can also catch sight of Richmond-connected film and theater talents cast by our very own Anne Chapman. They include: Paul Wilson, the enthusiastic Brother Bob Cross of Eternal Hope Baptist Church, who was in 2015’s "Big Stone Gap" (along with his brother, Patrick Wilson) frequent extra (and sometime Richmond magazine model) Steve Hurwitz, as Guy, one of the triumvirate of Eternal Hope elders who aren’t happy about the movie idea, alongside Witt. You’ll also see Tim and Daphne Maxwell Reid — the Reids have numerous credits behind and in front of the camera, the multi-talented Scott Wichmann, and Brian K. Landis.
As for the screening, Powers admits to “being as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” In part, that's because while he’d seen the film in a near-finished state for small audiences, this was the first time the whole finished product was in front of such a big house. DVDs and Netflix are all great, but sitting there in a form of communion of shared experience is another matter.
“There’s just nothing like hearing a group of people like that laugh and fall hushed in the right places, too,” he says.