Friday, August 29, 2014

Lynchburg plays host to Christian movie

Hollywood producers and local actors converted Liberty University and Lynchburg hotspots into movie sets this summer while filming the new faith-based movie, “Finding Faith.”

According to a Liberty News Service article, the purpose of “Finding Faith” is to educate families on the dangers of the Internet and to teach children how to not fall prey to online predators. The movie is based on the true story of a teenage girl who was abducted after sharing excessive information with a skilled online predator. The film records the events that take place before, during and after the abduction and features the challenges that the family will face.

Lights, camera, action — Liberty and LCA provided filming locations for “Finding Faith.” Photo provided

The Safe Surfin’ Foundation is led by Sheriff Mike Brown, who holds 42 years of law enforcement experience, in addition to the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC). Under Brown’s guidance, the task force has maintained a 100 percent conviction rate per strict guidelines that have targeted active Internet predators.

At an April press conference, Brown shared his goals for the film and the role that ICAC would play.

“To the sexual predator, we are the wolves,” Brown said. “We have, in a number of ways, set the bar for other task forces. For that, I am very proud.”

Thomas Road Baptist Church, Liberty Christian Academy and Liberty University contributed to the project and are highlighted in the film as a result.

“We knew this was the avenue we wanted to go — utilizing Thomas Road and Liberty University for support — and they’ve been great,” Brown said. “We couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

The majority of the people involved in the production were affiliated with Liberty in some way, Jason Campbell, Liberty alumnus and executive producer of the film, said.

Around 400 volunteers were distributed among 12 teams, and more than 200 people were involved in the cast and crew. Some of those teams included prayer and encouragement, food services, production and post-production, wardrobe, set design and construction.
“We had so many people come out the first day of filming that I didn’t know what to do with them all,” Campbell said.

In addition to noted actor Erik Estrada, among those starring in the film is Stephanie Bettcher, a senior worship studies major. Bettcher plays the lead role of Faith Garrett, a 14-year-old teen who finds herself in an unpredictable situation.

“My character, Faith, is the typical teenager,” Bettcher said. “She’s the head cheerleader, popular, loves the Lord, but she is also very into social media — so much so, that I start talking to this guy online who poses as a 16-year-old. It spirals downward from there.”

Because she played a character six years younger than herself, Bettcher had the opportunity to work with a variety of people ranging from all ages.

“A lot of people (who) played my friends in the movie were actually 14, so it was different, but fun,” Bettcher said.

Growing up, Bettcher participated in a variety of theater pieces — from middle school plays to high school productions. However, since coming to Liberty, she has been focusing on singing.

“I do love acting. In fact, doing this movie rekindled some feelings of pursuing it in the future. If God puts an acting job in my lap, I’ll run with it,” Bettcher said.

Jessica Falwell, Pastor Jonathan Falwell’s daughter, plays Bettcher’s best friend, Ashley Burke.

“Faith’s abduction really hit my character, Ashley, hard and affected the way she acted,” Falwell said. “Because Ashley spent all of her time with Faith, you can imagine how hurt and upset she was when she found out about the abduction.”

Even before the filming for “Finding Faith” had begun, Bettcher and Falwell had formed a friendship through participating in the Virginia Christmas Spectacular productions at Thomas Road together.

Those involved in the film are hoping that it will be a comfort to the public, especially to those who have been affected by online predators.

“I really want this movie to be an encouragement to both Christians and non-believers and to let them know God is there with them through anything that happens, good and bad,” Falwell said.

Bettcher added that in the movie, the Garrett family struggles to unite in such difficult circumstances and realizes the importance of God’s presence in their lives.

“The Garrett family understood that they had to trust God,” Bettcher said. “I believe this movie will be a great resource to those wanting to know more about the dangers of sex trafficking and how to be safe against Internet predators. I’m hoping that it’ll open parents’ and teens’ eyes to be extra cautious.”

The premiere is set for mid-January at Thomas Road Baptist Church.

1 Comment

  1. When I first looked over the DVD art for Finding Faith the first thing that had me scratching my head was, how does someone do a family-friendly film about kidnapping and sex trafficking? This is supposed to be inspired by true events and is a film dealing with individuals and their faith in God during their time in need. The cherry which actually convinced me to give this film a chance is that it stars Erik Estrada (Mr. Poncherello himself from the TV series CHiPs). As a childhood fan of Estrada, this film was pretty much impossible to resist.

    The film opens with a narration from Sheriff Brown (Estrada) as he discusses all the bad things he’s encountered throughout his career but leads us into our story that is about finding good in a bad situation. At a ranch somewhere hidden away in the mountains a suspicious-looking man approaches; tending to a horse inside is a young female that the man seems to be looking for. Is he an innocent visitor or is something more sinister at play? This is quickly answered when the female pulls again, and members of law enforcement close in to make the arrest. For anyone who has seen To Catch a Predator, this is a familiar sight.

    When we meet Faith (Stephanie Bettcher), she’s your typical 13-year-old who is obsessed with social media and staying connected to all her friends. To make her all the more likeable, she is even a responsible member of her youth group. Though she may not have a boyfriend, a suspicious suitor from out of state begins to communicate with her via text and other social media outlets. Not to spoil anything, but the young boy she thinks she is talking to actually turns out to be Edwin (Jonathan Philips), who is a far cry from the innocent teenager he claims to be.

    After being snatched up by Edwin and his girlfriend who is toting around an infant child, Faith endures her ordeal with simply her faith in God to protect her. But Faith is not the only one enduring a crisis of faith; her father Sam (Jamie Watson) is faced with self-doubt and questions his faith considering he feels he did all that was expected in being a good father, but yet this tragedy still hit his family. Having never been in this situation I don’t know how I would handle my beliefs one way or another, but I can appreciate the added stress this would put any father under, especially when the law enforcement officials surrounding you seem to want to prepare you for the worst case scenario.

    I can appreciate that this is a family-oriented film that is trying to make families and teenagers aware of the dangers of social media. My problem is that the film played things too safe and generic; for instance, when we meet the villains there is never a moment of doubt, we know these are the bad guys. In the real world, though the bad guys are not so obvious, and the film simply played it safe with having these cardboard bad guys who lack anything that could make them likeable. Considering the film is produced by Christian backers, I understand the need to throw in the faith element of the film, but really it just came off as being a forced subtext more than anything. I see the argument can be made that little miracles are sprinkled throughout the film, but is it something to really make as an argument for having faith, or simply good detective work? Perhaps that was the purpose of the film as well to create that discussion; after all, the film does openly promote the need to discuss the subject matter throughout the film.

    Is this a film that kept me glued to my seat as it shocked me with its twists and turns? Not even close. But for what it is, I see it falling in the category of your typical movie of the week. Looking at it with reined in expectations, it’s not half bad. Stephanie Bettcher carries a lot of the film based on her performance; though it felt a little uneven from the start, as the film reached its more intense moments she did a commendable job. If you are a parent with kids spending hours throughout the day on social media outlets, this is a movie that could help open the conversation to the threats that are only a profile and a click away. Me, I just avoid those with screen names like Bodaciousbuns1980.

    Comment by Susu — March 10, 2014 @ 6:11 am

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