Cinematic Arts professor earns International Telly Award in directing

A calling from God can be near impossible to ignore. Cinematic Arts professor Durrell Nelson heard and tackled that calling head on, leading to a promising career in film and a recently won International Telly Award for his latest movie, “An Unlikely Angel.”

Durrell began his career as a pre-med student.  After taking an introduction to theater class he dropped out of pre-med and left it behind to go to Los Angeles. Looking for work as an actor, stuntman and screenwriter, Durrell landed his first gig in 1980 as an actor and stuntman for a film. 

Later, God would lead Durrell and his wife, Rebecca, to Liberty. As Durrell followed God’s calling on his life, directing movies like “An Unlikely Angel” became a part of his ministry. 

“Perseverance is so key,” Durrell said. “Talents can go away. God is giving you this gift to glorify Him.”

The film approaches relevant conflicts among Christian families, especially Christian women. In the film, wife and businesswoman Janie’s life stops when she learns she is pregnant. She soon experiences doubts about her capability to be a good mother as well as questions about the future of her career. But she does not suffer alone. 

God sends her an “unlikely angel” who takes her on a journey to show her what her future would look like if she had made a different decision.

“It’s a story about when my wife and I first had our child and the wrestling between a career and being a mom,” Durrell said. “We saw people in Hollywood put their children away with nannies and we didn’t want to do that.”

Durrell and Rebecca worked together on this film with Durrell directing and his wife as the screenwriter. Both won Bronze Telly Awards in those categories. 

At the heart of the production was Christ. Prayer warriors occupied the set along with actors, cinematographers and other crew needed to put together the film. The set structure also differed by creating a space for all crew members to be equal and allowing all members to feel heard. Ultimately, it created an experience honoring to God.

“The thing we prayed about the most is that God would be honored on the set and in the film; there are places where it is really clear,” Durrell said. “Many times, we would go through the process for God to show us a different direction.”

The process for the International Telly Award started with the film festival circuit. After seeing the popularity of the film during its first screening, Durrell decided to send the film to five different festivals. After being sent to the festivals and gaining notoriety, the film was submitted to the Telly Awards.

Submitting a Christian film into a secular awards organization may have seemed like a long shot, especially with 30,000 entries worldwide up for the competition. Winning the Telly Award in screenwriting and directing changed the game for Durrell and the film crew.

“We were surprised. You’re humbled and just feel like, ‘wow, thank you Lord,’” Durrell said on winning the International Telly Award. 

Besides winning the Bronze International Telly Awards, “An Unlikely Angel” has also won the International Christian Visual Media Crown Awards (ICVM) silver crown award for best non-theatrical release movie and the bronze crown award for best evangelistic movie. Additionally, they won the Gold Remi award for best Christian film at the WorldFest Houston International Film festival.

“When you find that thing you love doing, why stop? Lay it at the foot of the cross,” Durrell said on the gifts that God has given him to tell story. 

The journey will not stop at the Telly Awards. Durrell, Rebecca and the film crew are making a sequel to “An Unlikely Angel” in addition to a new faith comedy film and two television series. 

“In this business you ride the wave of the arc. Whatever project you’ve just done, pray you can do another,” Durrell said.

“An Unlikely Angel” is available for streaming on PureFlix, YouTube and other streaming services. For more information check out the production company website.  

Pace is the assistant feature editor for the Liberty Champion

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