By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
WILMINGTON, Del.—It’s a warm June day in northeast Wilmington. The neighborhood is quiet and there’s no action on the street, just a few young people lounging on a porch. But walk up the steps, onto that porch and enter the house and amazingly, it’s a whole different world. It’s dark and there’s a film crew in there with lights, huge fuzzy covered microphones, big cameras and people with hats hustling about using words like “gaffers” and “boom man.” They’re all working on a film project called “Prodigal: The Movie,” a collaboration of Embrace Wilmington, Hockessin Church, Film Brothers Studio and Delaware Youth for Christ (YFC).
It began as an idea that sprung from conversations between Embrace Wilmington Executive Director Mitch Dowell and Brett Foester, Delaware Youth For Christ director. They were at LOMA Coffeehouse, owned and operated by Hockessin Church. Dowell shared his idea of creating a movie that would provide a mentoring opportunity for several young men involved in Youth for Christ, and it would act as a partnership project that could bring the neighborhood together and provide countless opportunities to form relationships. They approached Gordon DelGiorno, Film Brothers Production Film Producer/Event Promoter, about the plan and DelGiorno was excited about the prospect. Film Brothers is a few blocks down the street from LOMA. Shortly thereafter, the men met for a serious discussion and put the plan into action. Embrace Wilmington provided the funding for the project.
The idea was to write a modern day story based loosely on the parable of the prodigal son, set in a tough area in Wilmington, professionally film it and then show it in town. Foester carefully chose six young men. Each was a growing believer, and each was a person Foester thought would benefit from the mentoring. Several of them were also interested in art, media or film. The young men worked with the leadership and with screenwriter Larry Bryant to develop the script. They started out by reading and discussing the parable, then they worked to adapt it as a modern day story, using their own family experiences. The script is about a Wilmington couple trying to raise two sons. One son is preparing for college and regularly reading books, including the Bible, and the other brother is struggling with decisions about life and deciding to take the shortcut to earning money and getting out of the “hood,” only to find himself face to face with drug dealers and decisions.
Bryant is a former New Castle County police officer and was able to use his experience to bring reality to the characters and story.
“It actually hits pretty close to home,” Bryant said.
Jason Rayburn, YFC Associate, and an actor in the program agreed, saying drugs are a real issue in the neighborhood. Just a month before the film crew arrived, there was a drive-by shooting in front of a YFC youth center, just blocks from the filming site. Foester said the stains are still visible. Sadly, Foester acknowledged, shootings and the like don’t bother the boys. “They’re not fazed by it,” he said. “They don’t think about the extent of what’s happening because it’s happening all the time. This is a high crime area.”
The young men Foester chose for the project are: Javon Henry, studying digital multimedia at Wilmington University; Tevin Davis, studying computer game design and development also at Wilmington University; and high school freshmen Quinton Banks, Ryan Irvin, Keenan Ushery and Thomas Steeney. They have been involved in the entire project from conception, script preparation, casting, the logistics of filming, editing and the finished product. They plan to show the movie late in October in Theater N in downtown Wilmington.
Foester is also encouraged by the way the community is rallying around the movie. He told how local business owners were happy to help once they heard about the project –clothing stores, parcel/package stores.
Bringing community together appeals to DelGiorno, as well.
“The project and content is very secondary to me. I’m a bottom line guy in many ways. I care about the people enjoying each other,” he said.
Dowell said while filming the final scene, showing someone shot in the street, many locals came out to watch and expressed that they are anxious to see the film. Dowell said this is a great opportunity for the boys to share their stories, and tell about how the project made a difference in their lives. It’s another connection.
Dowell is quick to stress that “Prodigal: The Movie” is not a Christian film and wasn’t meant to be. (There are two instances of mild profanity). It’s the process of making the film that’s important, giving these young men a once in a lifetime chance to be involved in such a learning experience.
Embrace Wilmington, through Dowell, is acting as a catalyst in this film project, partnering several entities together to foster connections that will continue indefinitely. It also shows how “embracing” a city really works.
“I can’t get my arms around the whole city of Wilmington and in the end I may not be able to say we logged 600 professions of faith,” Dowell said. “But I’ll be content if I can say that we made an impact on Javon and Tevin and the other boys and that they can become the disciples that share Christ where He leads them.”
It’s also the connections as the Christian community works together with different merchants, film crews, neighbors and actors. Each contact provides opportunities to show the world who Christ is and who Christians are called to be just through day-to-day life and business.
“I think about embracing the city the same way some say you eat an elephant, one bite at a time. You embrace a city one person at a time, one neighborhood, one relationship and that goes on and that lasts a long time after we’re gone. We did a lot of good things but we won’t be able to measure it quantitatively down the road. I want to do something that will last a long time.
“A church can do an event, or go work at a soup kitchen and those are good things. But if a church can partner with a group like Youth for Christ, they can make not just a momentary contribution, but a lifelong impact in the lives of young people.
“If we impact one boy in 2011, what will happen in 2020 and 2030 in his life and who will he impact because we were there for him?” Dowell said. “That’s important.”