Inspirational drama has local ties, local fans
A local talk show host has put her support behind an independent film made in North Texas and screening Friday at three theaters in the region.
Theresa Westbrook, the host of the local public access show Time With Theresa, said she’s been campaigning to get Beyond the Farthest Star in local cinemas since the National Christian Media Association learned about it.
Westbrook, a core team leader of the media association’s Dallas chapter, said independent films — especially inspirational films like Beyond the Farthest Star — have a hard time getting distribution into national chain multiplexes.
“It is very difficult to get theaters to screen independent films, much less a film that is considered inspirational or faith-based,” said Westbrook, who also runs a ministry that serves victims of childhood sexual abuse called Pearls of Shalom. “It is time for this to change, and I believe we are seeing progress. … I promote Beyond the Farthest Star because it contains a story of value to audiences of all ages and it is well-written and produced by professionals in the film industry that are Christians.”
Executive producer Benjamin Dane said the film doesn’t preach. Beyond the Farthest Star tells the story of a pastor who was on track to become the next Billy Graham, only to lose several jobs serving churches because of his disruptive, rebellious daughter.
“It’s taken from actual events,” Dane said. “The writer-director Andrew Librizzi grew up in New Jersey and became a youth pastor. He heard a lot of family issues and youth issues, and he also adopted a girl from his wife’s previous relationship. Where he grew up in New Jersey, a nativity was vandalized”
Dane said Librizzi took those experiences and the nativity burning and wrote the story of pastor Adam Wells (Todd Terry), his wife, Maureen (Renee O’Connor, Xena: Warrior Princess), and their daughter, Anne (Cherami Leigh, best known as the voice of Lucy Heartfilia in the animated series Fairy Tale).
After losing another ministry to his daughter’s troubles, the Rev. Wells moves the family to a rural Texas town. Anne sticks out like a sore thumb in her dark clothes and darker moods.
“In the story, the family isn’t all that different from the family in the film American Beauty,” Dane said. “It’s a broken family. They have an austere appearance, but everything is not OK. There are missing pieces and they are searching for answers.”
The focus of the film is Anne’s difficulties. She doesn’t fit in easily with her family, and she has difficulties in her new school.
“She gets involved in this garage band and connects with Stephen [played by Tyler Corie, of Denton], who is kind of a rodeo kid,” Dane said. “He’s enamored with her.”
Just as Stephen gets Anne to lower her guard, a triangle forms. Kyle, Stephen’s best friend feels like the new girl in town is a threat to the boys’ friendship. Enter a mysterious man seen coming and going from the Wells’ home and the tension escalates.
Dane said the producers have been pleased with early buzz for the movie.
“It’s definitely a faith-based film. It’s not a ministry movie — not a preachy movie,” Dane said. “The father’s change is as important as the changes the others go through. There are subtle messages of faith, but it’s like Joyriders or Soul Surfer. It's not a butterfly and puppy dog film.”
Librizzi’s story has taken 10 years to get to the cinema. Dane said the producers have used focused marketing — to families who are on the lookout for films with a G, PG or PG-13 rating and to churches and church youth groups.
They’ve invited people to use social media — Facebook, Twitter and other sites — to show their interest in seeing the film. Once they sell 500 tickets for a specific screening — like Friday’s screenings in Southlake and Plano — the local cinemas reserve a screening theater for a showing.
The special dates lure distributors to pick up the movie for wide release. The producers of the movie hope it will be released in a theatrical run next year.
The film was shot in Hunt, Fannin and Dallas counties in 2010.
“We kind of took over North Texas,” Dane said. “Film is not for the faint of heart. You want to do a story that is authentic. You want a story that is real. I think that it’s needed. But there isn’t always room for that in the industry. In the industry, it’s very hard, even with independent film, to get distribution. But we’re proud of it, and the feedback we’ve gotten so far has been incredible.”
Dane said the Motion Picture Association of America, the group that rates a film’s suitability for children and adults, contacted the producers with praise. The screenplay also inspired a four-book series of novels by popular Christian historical fiction writers Bodie and Brock Thoene.
Dane said the project also inspired one of the last paintings by Thomas Kinkade, the famous “painter of light.” Kinkade had produced a watercolor study inspired from the movie, but didn’t turn it into an oil on canvas or a print before his death in 2012.
“We had a test screening in Dallas, and the CEO for Thomas Kinkade saw the film,” Dane said. “After he saw it, he told one of the crew, he said, ‘I’ve got to cancel my business trip. I have to go fix my family.’ Thomas Kinkade saw the film after that.”
Westbrook said she hasn’t had Dane or Librizzi on her talk show, but would like to.
“I have been following this movie almost from the beginning of production,” she said. “I have seen several clips from the movie and heard many talks regarding this film at our meetings. I haven’t had a chance to get the filmmakers scheduled for a taping yet. But of course, they are on my list to have on the show and talk about the movie, and more.”
Friday’s screenings are at the Harkins Southlake 14, Cinemark West Plano and the Majestic 12 Theatre in Greenville.
Screenings are at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., 4:50 p.m., 7:45 p.m. and 10 p.m. at Cinemark West Plano, 3800 Dallas Parkway. Actors Terry O’Connor, Leigh and Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure, No Country for Old Men) will attend the 7:45 p.m. screening. For tickets, visit http://bit.ly/H57xYD.
Screenings are 10 a.m., 12:50 p.m., 3:40 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 9:20 p.m. at the Harkins Theatre in Southlake, 1450 Plaza Place. For tickets, visit http://bit.ly/1bA5VAi.