Independent films with their fresh ideas, story lines, production methods, and authentic performances have always captured my attention. The ability of the writers, directors, and actors to imbue much of their own personal vision, unrestricted to the agreement of big producers and distributors, into every aspect of the work is thrilling. Talent is put forth without million dollar contracts and movies are made in your own town, just around the corner, and you may not even know it. I had no idea that one such independent film was in production right under my nose, a film that I can be proud of both artistically and spiritually.
On October 28th 2011, I had the chance to attend the limited release of the film October Baby, a coming of age love story, written by Jon Erwin and Theresa Preston, directed by brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin. Shot in just 20 days with less than 1 million dollars, the Erwins chose their own surroundings of Birmingham, Alabama and neighboring parts of the state as the scenery for their first full-length project. “We filmed the movie and we finished the movie right here,” Jon told The Birmingham News, “it didn’t go to any big production facility in New York or LA. We did it all right here.” Quite an accomplishment; and a joy to local audiences who clapped and cheered at the familiar sights of their city displayed onscreen. What makes October Baby unique, and a true blessing in the industry, is that this film is a look into the after affects of abortion?the affects to the birth mother, the clinic worker, the innocent victims, and the survivors. Not a light subject to tackle, especially for your first movie if you hope to make it big in the business. Thankfully, the Erwin brothers have high aspirations; in an interview with ChristianCinema.com, Jon stated, “I think that’s where we differ philosophically from other Christian filmmakers. We’ve been part of the secular industry for so long that I’ve grown to really love people who work in entertainment. They’re messed-up people who have a lot of needs, but I don’t want to isolate myself with Christian people making Christian movies. I’d rather engage the secular industry and not shy away from what I believe.” In October Baby, they engage the audience in such a way that is eye opening, yet not overly preachy; moving, yet funny; deeply religious, but not polarizing; a way that speaks to the fast paced, vibrant culture that we live in.
The particular inspiration for October Baby came from the true story of Gianna Jessen, a young woman who suffers from cerebral palsy as a result of the abortion she survived at 7 ½ months gestation. Thanks to Gianna sharing her story, falling on the ears of key individuals such as the Erwin brothers, we now have a film based on the shocking truth that there are abortion survivors—children who even in their first moments of breath are unwanted and unwelcome, and, in some cases, in danger. Through the fictional story of Hannah the film explores what it means to be a human person willed into existence and loved in the mind of God from all eternity, and the desire in each of us to be wanted in ways that no film has before.
Hannah is a young woman of 19, an aspiring actress supported by her loving family and best friend. Though living with epilepsy and asthma, Hannah’s greatest sufferings come from within: unexplainable feelings of depression, rejection, and despair, to the puzzlement of those who love her. After Hannah experiences a relapse in her seizures and is hospitalized, her doctor and parents reveal that all of her physical and emotional problems have been traced to her extremely traumatic delivery and premature birth. Unbeknownst to her for all these years, Hannah was aborted by her birth mother but survived to be adopted by her parents. Overcome with this tremendous burden and facing nothing but questions, Hannah runs from the present to discover answers and meet the people who affected her past.
Echoing the beautiful message of the film is the way in which it is presented. The Erwin brothers clearly have a knowledge and love of their trade that comes from the ground up; with many years of experience at ESPN and in music video production, they are filmmakers in tune with the modern industry. As Jon Erwin shared, again from his aforementioned interview, “I would like to be a part of a group of Christian filmmakers who want to put the craft of filmmaking and story up on a higher pedestal and make movies that are absolutely incredible. Then I think we’ve earned the right to speak to the audience.” The composition and movement of the shots were sheer poetry and beauty from the first moments to the last; evoking empathy, loss, sorrow, joy, and pain, all melding perfectly with the lighting effects and the music. A glance between characters or a sequence of shots paired with a soaring movement of music (expertly chosen and orchestrated by Paul Mills) was enough to speak volumes. The in-your-face or in-their-shoes style of filming employed here kept no secrets and afforded deep connections between the characters and audience. The October Baby cast worked perfectly with this style and as the topics deepened and ripened as the movie progressed, so did my affection for the characters and my enthusiasm for the actors’ performances.
Two faces you will recognize in this film are that of John Schneider and Jasmine Guy (of Dukes of Hazzard and A Different World fame, respectively). Both of them, and the new talent featured in the lead roles, delivered wonderful performances, bringing emotion, humor, and brokenness to the forefront in just the right moments. Rachel Hendrix as Hannah was a joy to get to know. Enjoying her lighter moments (especially a scene employing a classic homeschooler joke), I soon moved on to admire the depth and raw emotions she showed as her character expressed the realizations of abortion and embraced forgiveness. The couple portraying her adopted parents, John Schneider and Jennifer Price, were particularly touching in the revealing of their own pain of parenting and detachment. Jason Burke, as Hannah’s best friend, showed a sweet swagger and thoughtfulness, and proved a refreshing anchor throughout the film. In the supporting cast, funny men Chris Sligh (of American Idol 2007) and James Austin Johnson, provided noteworthy laughs from their beat up Volkswagen van while, at the opposite side of the spectrum, Jasmine Guy passionately portrayed a clinic nurse struggling with the choices she had made. Looking into her soulful eyes you could see the pain and confusion that many in the abortion industry must feel when faced with the truth. A small, but beautiful role went to Shari Weidmann, an actress who only through participating in this film finally acknowledged the affects of abortion in her own life. For more on that amazing story and many others from the cast and crew, take a look at the behind the scenes clips on the film’s website: www.OctoberBabyMovie.net .
The movie pleasantly surprised me with its use of a police officer and, later, a Catholic priest as channels of grace in Hannah’s healing. This effort brought a profound sense of ecumenism and solidarity to the film, with a particularly touching scene taking place in St. Paul’s Cathedral of the Diocese of Birmingham. “But if the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed,” says the priest, as the camera moves toward a shot of the altar and tabernacle- a gesture that the filmmakers may not even have consciously realized- in a completely redeeming moment.
Small graces abound in October Baby. Tinged with humor, a sweet friendship and love story, and a few surprising plot twists, the film brought me to tears many times, expressing loss and forgiveness in scene after scene. I realized very early into watching that this was no ordinary movie. It is a film that will heal, help, and change the hearts of many movie goers. But it has to be seen and, being an independent film, is in great need of promotion, funding, and sponsorship to make its planned March 2012 national theatrical release a reality. My hope is that you will visit the October Baby website and seek an opportunity for a screening, if possible; that you promote this film and support it with your movie ticket when it comes to your city. “We wanted to give God our very best,” the filmmakers explained. The Erwin brothers and the entire team that crafted this film have given audiences a visible testament to the sanctity of life, and have given God the glory.