New Virginia film shoots down faith-based stereotypes

When you’re a filmmaker and a religious leader, you have the opportunity to…write a film that kind of pokes fun at a religious leader who thinks he can make films without an open mind!

At first, when you hear about David Powers, you think it’s kind of unusual that he’s a film nerd as well as a retired pastor. But why not? We’re film nerds as well as local journalists, and if we were retired, maybe we’d make our own film too.1

That’s what he’s doing, by the way. Writer and director of a new movie that’s filming in Virginia, Shooting the Prodigal, David Powers is the president of Belltower Pictures, a corporation that not only produces but distributes and promotes movies with a theme that involves faith.

“But not a general run-of-the-mill faith-based script,” says Heather Waters, who heads up the Richmond International Film Festival, the Virginia Production Alliance, and the Creative World Awards.2 She’s also a producer of Shooting the Prodigal–Waters met Powers when he volunteered to help out with RIFF. Since then, she’s been helping out with feedback as the idea took shape in Powers’s mind and began to exist as an actual screenplay.

“Most faith-based films are altar-crawlers. They beat you over the head,” she explains. “He wanted to do a quirky comedy that was lighthearted and poked fun at all the different characters that are in churches, but also society.”

The film takes place in a very small town, as a pastor attempts to film a movie. Religions and cultures clash, but through the process of filmmaking–which as both Powers and Waters well know brings in folks of all kinds–hearts open and minds are changed.

“One of the messages is about not taking ourselves so seriously, no matter what you believe or don’t believe,” says Waters. “It’s really about coming together and appreciating each other’s differences.”

Shooting the Prodigal has been noticed and boosted on several occasions already, and shooting has yet to even begin. The project won the Governor’s Motion Picture Opportunity Fund, and it’s rumored that Paul Wilson will play one of the film’s leads. Wilson plays Lyle Makin in Adriana Trigiani’s screen adatpation of Big Stone Gap starring Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Jenna Elfman, and Whoopi Goldberg. That film hits theatres this October.

As somewhat of an experiment in a new aspect of filmmaking, Powers, Waters, et al (which includes seasoned producer Ken Roy), are taking the film into new audience engagement territory, leading discussions around the country about the subject matter.

And, in keeping with the Virginia Production Alliance’s goal to cultivate more filmmaking talent close to home, Shooting the Prodigal has been accepting volunteer groups and people who wish to learn the art of holding a boom, being a PA, and anything else that needs an extra hand. “We’re trying to set aside some time to nurture and train the next generation of filmmakers,” says Waters. “We’re outgrowing our talent and crew here [in Virginia].”

Shooting begins in just a couple of weeks in Central Virginia, wrapping by mid-July, and all involved are optimistic about its reception.

Says Waters, who knows her way around a good movie, “We hope the film will serve as a change agent not just for its genre, but also due to the message it sends.”

Interested in learning more about filmmaking and volunteering for a good cause? Volunteer with Belltower on the flim’s production. Virginia cinema needs you!

  1. Report a Correction, the story of one reader who corrected one too many times, and the journalist who shouted, “It’s just a typo! Go back to living your life!” because of it. 
  2. Her crowning achievement, of course, is being a panelist at RVANews Live #002! 
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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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