"I'm Not Ashamed of God," a two hour and 10 minute film, written and produced by members of the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Southeast Washington, was premiered last week at Howard University's Crampton Auditorium.
The film, viewed by an estimated 500 people, was shot on location in South-east Washington at a cost of $7000 to $8000, using a cast of non-professional actors and only one cameraman. Produced as a fund-raising effort for the church's scholarship fund, the film is the story of a teenage boy who is caught between his family's desire for him to participate in church life and the attraction of life with a street gang.
The premiere was the culmination of an effort that began last summer as a part-time project, but quickly mushroomed into what the film's writer and director Emma Thompson called "an almost full-time occupation."
"People don't realize how much goes into making a film," Thompson said. "I didn't. It's a lot of hard work."
That "hard work," she explained, included missed days from school and work for the cast's members, and all night editing sessions.
"It's was tough sometimes," Thompson added, "buutit was worth it."
Some of those who saw the premiere agreed with that assessment.
"It was inspring," declared Kelvin Young, a student at the University of D.C. "It's the first time I've seen a religious film that impressed me."
D.C. City Councilwoman Hilda Mason, who watched the premiere with her husband, Charles, said, "I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt it really got the message across."
In the film, a boy named Albert is led astray by members of a neighborhood gang. The near-death of his mother in a car accident leads Albert and his friends to be "born again" as member of Emmanuel Baptist Church.
It was Emma Thompson, 26, and her husband, James, 28, who originally came up with the movie idea as a fund-raising idea for the church's Ward Scholarship Fund. The fund, named after former pastor Claggett Ward, was created two years ago bythe church's current pastor, the Rev. W.J. Mason.
The fund is currently helping to put two students through college. It was not immediately known how much money the church raised in its preview performance.
"We wanted something different," Thompson smiled. "Something that would raise money and have universal appeal. So, we thought, "Why not a movie?" In spite of the unorthodox nature of the film, THompson said that the church was "unanimous" in its support.
"Everyone seemed to feel it would be successful," said Margaret Reynolds, who heads the scholarship committee. "Everyone was behind it."
Another member who said that he was sold on the idea almost immediately was the church pastor, W.J. Mason. Mason said he was enthusiastic for several reasons.
"First, of course, there was the money we might raise," Mason explained. "But there was also the chance to show young people that they, too, could become a part of the church community."
Cast members from "I'm Not Ashamed . . ." said that they, too, were inspired by the film's message. Dwayne Morrison, 18, of Southeast, who portrayed Albert in the film, admitted that the filming had often been a strain on the personal lives of the cast.
Still, said Morrison, "I would do it again. I really think that the movie is something young people need to see."
Elizabeth Jones, 49, continued to work on the film though her son Connell, 28, fell to his death during the filming.
"Even with the death of my son, I had to go on," Jones said. "It was just that important."
Two members, Tom Ramsey, 19, and Theresa Stanfield, 13, decided to join Emmanuel while working on the film. Ramsey, a student at the University of D.C., said he didn't think the film would instantly "change people's thinking." "But," he said, "it will start them thinking anyway."
Stanfield, a student at Bel Air Jr. High in suburban Maryland, had similar feelings.
"The movie didn't make up my mind to join," she said. "But it helped."
It was, in fact, the spirit of the film that made it feasible. Wainwright Boseman, a photographer for the D.C. Public School System, said that when Thompson first approached him, "I told her the picture would cost at least $90,000. She told me," he recalled with a laugh, "that they couldn't afford $15,000."
After learning what the project was attempting to accomplish, however, Boseman said he agreed to do it, asking only that his expenses be covered.
"I have no regrets," Boseman said. "Thompson and I worked well together."
Though inexperienced, Thompson managed to bring out the actor in non-actors. A partner in her husband's tour guide business, Mrs. Thompson said she would like to work in films again.
"But directing was not the most important thing here," she emphasized. "It was seeing the beautiful change in people. Seeing the film reach out and touch people. "I'd do it all again.