What is it about the top romantic movies of 2020 that we love so much? And what role does faith play when a man is willing to risk everything to be with the woman he loves? And where is God— if and when the unthinkable happens, when the young love of his life is told she has a terminal illness?
Nominated by Sonoma Christian Home as one of the top romantic movies of 2020 —I STILL BELIEVE is the real-life story of Christian singer/songwriter Jeremy Camp who, in the face of overwhelming grief, finds the strength to press on.
From the creators of I Can Only Imagine, Mom’s Night Out & October Baby — the Erwin Bothers’ I Still Believe is a true story about how one love can change your life, and how one life can change the world. This inspiring film reminds us that in the midst of unspeakable pain– true hope can always be found when we look to the cross.
In the lead role of Jeremy Camp, the film stars 22 year old New Zealander, KJ Apa, (best known for his heartthrob role as Archie in the Netflix TV crime drama Riverdale), and actress Britt Robertson (Tomorrowland, The Space Between Us and A Dog’s Purpose ) as Camp’s late wife, Melissa.
The film also stars country music queen Shania Twain, who plays the role of Camp’s mother, opposite award-winning film veteran Gary Sinise, who portrays Jeremy Camp’s father, Tom.
I Still Believe is directed by The Erwin Brothers, from a screenplay by Jon Erwin & Jon Gunn, based on the autobiographical memoir by Jeremy Camp, and produced by Kevin Downes, John Erwin, and Andrew Erwin.
Filmmakers Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin, and Kevin Downes have found and told many compelling stories in film based on real events that reveal heartfelt moments of strength in the face of adversity.
Their most recent film – the music biopic I Can Only Imagine tells the true story behind MercyMe’s #1 best-selling Christian single, which broke through and beyond audiences of faith to become a mainstream hit, taking in over $83 million at the box office, and becoming the most successful independent film of 2018.
As storytellers committed to bringing life-changing moments to the screen, the Erwins and Downes, through their Kingdom Story Company banner, have formed a new partnership with Lionsgate Movies to inspire audiences everywhere.
At an emotional and personal meeting with GRAMMY®-nominated music artist Jeremy Camp and his wife Adrienne, the filmmakers heard firsthand the real, raw, and undeniably compelling love story of Jeremy and his first wife, Melissa, which would lead to Camp’s hit song “I Still Believe” – and for the filmmakers, it was a story that needed to be told.
“It was such a beautiful, tragic, hopeful, redemptive love story that we thought it would be a great movie. It would be really entertaining, familiar to those that are fans of I Can Only Imagine, but also different—much more of a love story,” says Jon Erwin. “I thought, man, I really want to make this film.”
Sonoma Christian Home had an opportunity to sit down for an exclusive interview with the Erwin Brothers, Andrew and Jon. Editor at Large, Dr. Diane Howard reports.
SCH: What is a central theme in this movie?
Jon Erwin: A central theme is that of selfless love. Teens tell us they want to be loved like that. All want to be loved like that. This selfless love picturizes the sacrificial love of the Gospel.
SCH: Hope is an important theme in this movie. Why is that theme important today?
Andrew & Jon Erwin: Today people are craving hope. We want to give audiences the rush of hope that we have experienced when we have come across stories like the ones we have presented in our movies.
SCH: How do your movies show how God is good, even amid human suffering?
JE: A big question today is why does God allow suffering? In our movies we see that in our greatest difficulties and pain we find purpose. God writes our stories through which He gives us voices to millions.
SCH: Why is I Still Believe timely?
It is a about the power of love. The younger actors especially appeal to younger audiences who want innocent love and hope. They want something to believe in.
SCH: Why do you cast well-known, respected veteran actors and artists, as well as young talent in your movies?
A & J E: We want to make movies with multi-generational appeal that bring a range of ages together. We want to make movies for families where everyone can share the experiences. We cast older veteran actors who appeal to older and wider audiences, as well as young talent who will appeal to young audiences.
SCH: Many of your movies have been autobiographical. What is the power of telling a story based on true events?
AE : In Woodlawn, we found our voice for filmmaking with true stories. We found that movies based on real stories reach those outside church walls. We found that it is hard for viewers to debate true stories.
SCH: Why do you tell honest, authentic, redemptive stories in film?
J E: Audiences crave authenticity in movies. For us, we view our work as a sacred trust to present accurate portraits of real people. We want integrity in our films.
SCH: What are some of the most important elements of a good, impacting movie?
AE: Good movies need to be authentic. Christian filmmakers need to tell real stories and the Gospel will emerge.
SCH: What advice would you give Christian filmmakers?
Their movies need to come from the maturing process of the filmmakers as they patiently find their own voices in telling real stories. I have been working at this process for years. Filmmakers need to keep dreaming, and keep maturing.
SCH: What do you see happening with redemptive movies today?
A & J E: Christianity is making a resurgence. There is a developing spiritual revival and awakening going on around the world. God is also working in Hollywood. Storytelling through film is a key aspect of the redemptive work He is doing there, and out into the world.
It is interesting that the fact that the Erwin Brothers’ follow up to I Can Only Imagine would be another music biopic gave the filmmakers pause at first; but it was Camp’s personal, emotional journey that convinced them they had to make this movie. The two films would be very different: where Imagine is really about the power of forgiveness, the new film, I Still Believe, focuses on love and conviction.
Andrew Erwin heard that message loud and clear when he spoke to the Camps – and, surprisingly, especially from Camp’s now wife, Adrienne. “To tell the truth, I wasn’t interested in jumping into another music movie right away,” says Andrew Erwin. “I think the thing that really sold me on doing this movie was when we interviewed Jeremy and his wife, Adrienne.
They’ve been married for 15 years and they have three kids. Adrienne sat there as I interviewed Jeremy and we got to the end of the interview after about three hours. I interviewed her next and asked, ‘How can you listen to your husband talk about his first love, talk about another woman for three hours and it doesn’t produce any kind of insecurity in you?’ And she said, ‘Let me tell you, I am protective and passionate about Melissa’s story because Melissa’s story changed my life.’
“And at that point, I just got chills and I said, ‘I have to tell this story.’ I had tears in my eyes and I looked at my brother, and I said, ‘You’re gonna think I’m crazy, but I have to direct this movie.’
“Stories that give that rush of hope are in our DNA,” says Kevin Downes. “I think Jeremy and Melissa’s story speaks specifically to that. The music is incredible. The performances are incredible. But what we really responded to– is that it’s an amazing love story.”
Jeremy and Melissa Camp’s love story in I Still Believe is the kind that resonates in any era: beautiful, hopeful, and redemptive. Young love and endless devotion are at stake as Melissa fights for her life. Seemingly impossibly, the two grow even closer as they wholeheartedly hope for her healing – only for Jeremy to face heartbreaking loss as the love of his life loses her battle with cancer. Then, a redemptive ending comes after Melissa’s passing, a story of beauty from the ashes.
Destiny struck Jeremy on his first night at college when he spotted a lovely young woman singing , lost in the moment at a campus concert. Jeremy was instantly captivated by Melissa, who was oblivious to the world around her.
Their relationship began as a flirtatious, fun friendship. However, their
connection was clear and undeniably magnetic. Caught in something of a love triangle between Jeremy and the mutual friend who introduced them, Melissa abruptly ended the budding relationship with Jeremy, leaving him feeling that he had missed his chance for a life-changing love.
When he received word that Melissa was sick, Jeremy dropped everything and immediately went to be by her side. After a hospital proposal, chemo treatments during their engagement, and a beachside wedding when she entered remission, the cancer returned. Despite great adversity, Jeremy and Melissa remained strong, faithful, and hopeful. Jeremy’s undying devotion to his wife and his faith never wavered.
Throughout her life, Melissa’s attitude toward her circumstances were remarkable. “She cared so much about people and she wanted to make sure everyone else was okay,” says Camp. “Her heart for people was so huge. She said, ‘If I go through this, and it changes just one person’s life, it will be worth it.’”
Melissa never could have known, or imagined the number of lives that would be changed by hearing her story.
“Probably two or three weeks after she passed, I wrote a song, ‘I Still Believe,’” recalls Camp.
“And it was at a moment of my life where I didn’t want to play guitar. I was done. I went back to Indiana with my family and I was struggling and felt pretty hopeless… depressed, down, still grieving. But I felt something inside me telling me to pick up my guitar.’”
The first time he played and sang the song in front of an audience after Melissa’s passing, Camp realized the impact of sharing his story with others. The realness, the vulnerability—there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. “I remember going, ‘I want to share this story. I want to share the realness of it, my pain, the hurt, the struggles. I want others who are going through unremarkably hard things to have hope.’”
Jeremy first played on small stages, which led him to a record contract, and then gave him the opportunity to record an album and hit the road on tour, where he performed and shared Melissa’s story on increasingly larger stages. Jeremy’s first tour enabled him to inspire thousands, and
introduced him to his future wife, the then-Adrienne Liesching.
“I remember the first time I heard Jeremy sharing his and Melissa’s story from the stage, I was pretty blown away,” recalls Adrienne Camp. “I was in my twenties and had been in a fairly low place in my life and I couldn’t believe the authenticity of what he had been through.
You can’t fabricate a good answer when you go through watching your wife suffer. I was really blown away and intrigued by their faith; it’s authentic, it’s real. And that deeply, deeply touched me and made a massive impact on what I needed to hear.”
Now an award-winning music artist who has sold nearly five million albums, Camp has told his and Melissa’s story hundreds of times from the stage, in front of thousands of people.
But although it had been told so many times, it wasn’t until the release of his autobiographical memoir I Still Believe in 2013 that the full beauty, tragedy, and hope of his and Melissa’s love story was revealed in gripping detail. The story piqued the interest of producer Kevin Downes, prompting him to reach out to Camp to discuss the idea of adapting his story into a film.
“Our initial meeting with the Erwin Brothers went so well–it was so obvious that they got the heart of it,” recalls Adrienne. “That was the most important thing – to remain authentic and the message to come out exactly as it’s supposed to.”
That authenticity came through the first time he read the script, says Jeremy Camp. “We both sat down together. And the opening scene, we both started crying… It was like they knew how to start off my journey. The feel of the emotion…I mean there were times where I was taken back to that spot.”
After telling his and Melissa’s story thousands of times from the stage and in the pages of his memoir, Camp’s excitement for the film is for the further impact that Melissa’s story will have on millions of moviegoers. “They’ll see it and be drawn in,” he says. ”It’s going to be an incredible journey.”
Camp says that while he has relived the story each time he’s told it, it’s a completely different experience to watch skilled actors like KJ Apa and Britt Robertson reconstruct it before his eyes — and not always an easy one. “It’s been hard reliving the events of my life.
I’ve talked about it a lot,” Jeremy recalls, “but it’s completely different than just talking about it. You’re watching someone portray it, and seeing and feeling the emotions all over again.”
“There were a couple of moments on set where we both just had to stop, because even though I wasn’t there when the scenario played out, I’ve walked that with Jeremy for 15 years afterwards,” says Adrienne.
“I’ve been in some of those scenarios with him as his heart healed, and it takes us back to that place. It literally just takes you right back there. There were a couple of times that we had to just kind of hit the pause button and look over at each other.”
Throughout the process, Camp was aware that Melissa’s voice would come through clearest in the final film – but of course, Melissa would not be able to express her thoughts about it. As a result, Jeremy and Adrienne were both very protective of the way Melissa is presented, and he is proud of the way the Erwins captured her. “I think she would be very happy with how she’s portrayed. I think it’s brilliantly done,” he says. “Her heart was to reach out and to share the hope that is in Christ, and that people would come to know Him, and that’s what’s going to happen. She would for sure love this.”
It’s once again opening weekend for I STILL BELIEVE! Only this time, they are moving from theaters directly to your home. Beginning March 27th, this true story of faith, hope, and love — I STILL BELIEVE is available On Demand from your favorite platforms, including Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube, Christian Cinema, cable providers, and more.
With theaters across the country closed, this special opportunity allows you 48-hour access to the movie once you order it. You can find out all of the details on the website. Make today the day Hope Comes Home as you enjoy I STILL BELIEVE on demand.
By Dr. Diane Howard, Ph.D. (Performance Studies), dianehoward.com