Where Hope Grows is a family film with faith elements now playing in theaters! Winner of the 2014 Dallas International Film Festival and the Heartland Film Festival, this movie is sure to touch hearts and inspire audiences. Sonoma Christian Home was happy for the opportunity to talk with the film’s Writer/Director, Chris Dowling. SCH Editor at Large Dawn Gregg reports.
SCH: There are a lot of layers to this story. Where does it all start?
CD: I’m so fascinated with the idea of child-like faith. It sounds like it would be an easy thing to tackle but when you actually sit down and get analytical about it, it’s a hard thing to put together. I wanted to have a guy be introduced to the idea of child-like faith and then follow his journey. Then I thought, “Okay who is the bearer of this faith?” I thought it would be interesting to have that character have Down Syndrome.
Someone who the world might look at and say, “Okay, maybe he’s not smart enough to realize he’s missing out on everything.” But, the guy who supposedly has everything begins to wonder if maybe he’s the one missing out. There are a lot of other themes addressed, like alcohol abuse, bullying, and the father–daughter relationship. It’s been very humbling and overwhelming to see and hear the reactions from people who are finding relatable things in the film. The characters feel very real to them. It’s powerful to hear that. It’s cool.
SCH: Did your faith grow during the production of this movie, maybe in a more child-like manner?
CD: It definitely evolved. I definitely found myself relying on God. We were stepping out in faith. We had a bit task at hand and the right people were involved and there was the right vibe on set. It was a cool experience and I walked out of it feeling like I had confirmation. God was absolutely helping us out.
SCH: Did you feel the approval of the Father?
CD: For sure. Yeah.
SCH: This is David DeSanctis’s first experience with acting. What was your experience directing him?
CD: I didn’t have any experience with Down Syndrome or special needs. Walking into it, my wife was like, “Maybe you should read these books or check out these websites, you know, to prepare.” I said, “I’m gonna treat David like a dude and if that doesn’t work I’ll move to Plan B. Plan B was gonna be me doing some real quick catch up studying. When I first met with David, I sat across form him and as I slid the script across the table it occurred to me that I had no idea if he could read or not. I said, “Can you read all that?” His answer was, “Dawling.” And he licked his fingers (as if to say, let me show you how it’s done) and he dove right in. He had the script practically memorized by then.
SCH: That’s pretty amazing. And, I’m sure it was a nice surprise.
CD: He was our X Factor. I know I had a great personality with him. He’s got a star quality that transcends anything. He’s a dude and he’s a stud and he’s a star. One thing I did as a director was use what inspires David in his real life to our advantage. David’s into music. I had him make a Playlist for Produce and we had a song for each scene. We would have a Dance Party whenever we needed inspiration.
SCH: David certainly makes one re-think any pre-conceived ideas they might have.
CD: I really do feel as if we are inundated with these out of date ill-conceived stereotypes as a society. I know I was. I would say the “r” word. It wasn’t malicious. It was done out of ignorance. People just don’t know. This story is about a man, Calvin, who takes a journey to get to know an individual, Produce. I want people to realize that Down Syndrome doesn’t define a person. Down Syndrome does not define David.
SCH: Does Produce have a real name?
CD: Ultimately, I was really comfortable with him going by his nickname. If I’m doing a film and my character doesn’t have Down syndrome and let’s say his name is, “Eyeball,” I don’t need to know his real name. If I’m gonna accept that for an actor without Down Syndrome, I’m gonna accept that for an actor with Down Syndrome. I’m treating this guy like a dude. I don’t need to know his name. He’s given himself this name, Produce. That’s all I need to know. This section of the market is his domain. He is the expert in this place.
SCH: I understand you filmed on location in Kentucky. How was that?
CD: Kentucky was fantastic to us. We had the red carpet treatment in Louisville. We shot a huge stadium scene and 500 locals showed up on a cold and rainy day to fill seats. We had hospital scenes and grocery store scenes. We shot for four days in a supermarket while it was operating. They asked people to be quiet while shopping and turned off the register dings. When I called, “CUT,” customers would run in and pick out their fruits and vegetables.
SCH: So supportive.
CD: SO supportive.
SCH: Do you have a favorite scene in the film?
CD: It’s when Calvin is talking with Katie, his daughter towards the end. They are having a heart to heart and he’s trying to make amends. The last two times I’ve seen the film, and I’ve seen it hundreds of times, I just started crying. I have two daughters and I asked myself, “Am I crying because of the whole father-daughter dynamic or am I crying because I am the daughter and my Father/God is talking to me?”
SCH: So now you are at the point where you are publicizing the film. Getting the word out.
CD: Yes. Recently, David and I spoke at a church in front of 20,000 plus people. Never in my wildest dreams when I wrote this script did I think I would be talking in front of such a crowd. You hope that you make something that touches people and that your work has an impact of some sort. When you see it played out…well, it’s gone beyond my expectations. Obviously God is rock & rolling something. This is bigger than I could have ever conceived. It’s awesome.
SCH: I want to applaud you for the authenticity you brought to the screen. This film deals with faith issues, but I think it will do well with secular audiences due to it’s authenticity.
CD: That means a lot. That was my goal starting out. During the first meeting I said to everyone, “Hey, if this comes off as anything even remotely cheesy or it doesn’t feel real and authentic, then we have failed completely.”
SCH: That mentality paid off. You did well.
CD: Faith films can be somewhat exclusive. Meaning if you aren’t already on the team, you probably aren’t going to get excited about the film. For me, my goal was to be inclusive and we can go on a faith journey with an audience who might not be on that same faith journey. “Faith-based” is a marketing term. It’s a double-edged sword. If that’s what motivates some believers to go see a film, then absolutely it’s a term we should use. It’s faith based for sure in that sense. But, when you’re talking about a film that has cross over appeal and non-believers say, “Hey, that’s a good film that has faith interwoven organically into it,” that’s the sort of thing I want to hang my hat on.
It’s a line I walk. I like the term, “faith – adjacent.”
SCH: I think we need to encourage the church to embrace films like this. So many have hypersensitivities.
CD: Exactly. Some people are initially afraid of this film. A lot of faith films show a world as we wish it was and they don’t portray life how it really is.
Viewers will be challenged and inspired by the authentic telling of this redemptive story. Messages of faith, hope, and love are what audiences will carry away from Where Hope Grows.