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December 27, 2015 - January 9, 2016

Filmmakers hope new movie brings faith to real life ‘Full of Grace’ available Jan. 5

By Michelle Martin

Staff Writer

Bahia Haifi portrays Mary and Noam Jenkins portrays Peter in "Full of Grace." Photo provided

Mary has a story to tell, and three filmmakers based in suburban Chicago want to share it.

“Full of Grace” offers a look at Mary not as a young girl facing a decision that would change the course of the universe, but as wise woman, nearing the end of her life, who speaks from a position of experience and unbending faith in her son.

“He never said the road would be easy,” she tells Peter in the film.

The movie follows Mary during her last days, when Peter comes to her for help in setting the course for the early church. Her message is that the burden is not for Peter to bear alone.

“It’s an art-house film about the last days of Mary’s life on earth,” producer T.J. Berden said. “We want to make films like Michelangelo used paint. We just happen to have some of the best stories of the last 2,000 years.”

The film, produced by St. Charles, Illinois-based Outside da Box, will be available Jan. 5 commercially through Cinedigm and for parish nights of reflection through Outside da Box.

It took about a year to develop and write and 10 days to shoot, and the producers have been screening it for selected audiences over the past several months to build up word-of-mouth support. About 10,000 people had seen it by mid-December.

The film sold to Cinedigm and to an international distributor fairly quickly because biblical stories have become popular, said Eric Groth, the film’s executive producer. “Full of Grace” has biblical roots, especially in the situation of the early church as related in Acts of the Apostles, and Catholic tradition, Groth said.

Andrew Hyatt, who wrote and directed the film, said that in his mind, the story is as much about Peter as it is about Mary. It takes place as the church is trying to define itself. It is a sect of Judaism? Is it a new religion? Should in include Gentiles, and if so, how much of Judaic law should they have to observe?

“He’s the one who has been tasked with this decision,” Hyatt said. “It’s not a crisis of faith or belief, but it’s difficult for them. He puts the burden of the decision on himself.”

He travels to see Mary, to say goodbye as she nears the end of her life on earth, and she tells him to seek God’s will instead of trying to figure it out on his own.

“It’s like, yes, you’ve been put in charge of this, but you’re not really in charge of this,” Hyatt said.

The three men said they wanted to make a film that doesn’t show accepting Jesus as the end, the point at which the happily-everafter starts.

“That’s what you see in a lot of Christian films, say yes to Jesus and your life is kind of wrapped up,” Hyatt said. “That’s not how it has been for us, and we wanted to wrestle with our own experience of faith. We just try to be true to that journey of faith.”

Hyatt had professional success in secular horror films before taking on this project, something that happened after, he said, “God came to me in a hotel room in Toronto.”

At the time, his work had dried up, he and his wife had just had a baby and gone through their savings. Then Groth called about this movie.

“If I had literally anything else, I would have said no, I’m not available,” Hyatt said. “But now, this is the first time in my life that I’ve ever been 100 percent obedient to God.”

Now he is working with Berden and Groth to prepare for their next feature film, planned to be about St. Paul.

The key to making religious films is finding the right way to access the story, Berden said, to make the people real to viewers. Sometimes movies about saints paint them in broad strokes as paragons of perfection, and they weren’t like that, he said.

That’s part of the reason that company cast actors who look like they could have lived in the Middle East in this film, Berden said.

Not everyone who worked on the film was Catholic or Christian, Groth said, and that’s fine. Part of the way the film evangelizes is by exposing people — even those working on it —to the faith.

That approach got the endorsement of Pope Benedict, who met with the filmmakers at the Vatican last summer.

“He said this was an example of the New Evangelization,” Berden said.

The three also screened the film to an audience of Christians in Bethlehem, something Berden said was more than a little daunting.

“It was like, who are we to make this movie about what happened there?” Berden said.

But the movie got a great reaction there, he said.

Part of it is the way people are invited to see the film, he said. Instead of having the audiences leave their spiritual and emotional and psychological baggage at the door and take the movie as an opportunity to escape from their lives, the filmmakers want viewers to bring their lives with them.

“We want them to take the time to reflect on their lives and what this is saying to them,” Berden said.

“The way we evangelize is through our passion,” Groth said. “We hope through God’s grace, that’s transmitted.”

To learn more about “Full of Grace” or view the trailer, visit fullofgracefilm.com.