We return with another episode of “Movie Review Monday”! Today is special because this film was one I was requested to review. I’m excited to introduce you to this masterpiece feature made into a 30 minute short film, brought to you by one of the youngest directors in Christian film: Josiah Stendel.
INTRODUCTION: what is a father?
Menlo Lights presents a drama-filled, intense film that really exposits what a father is. For some, the orphaned or abused, this film has a message that blood alone doesn’t make a father. God, our Heavenly Father shows the example of what a father must be.
Elliot Thompson (Chad Zigmund) is a headstrong orphan raised in a single parent home by professional MMA fighter Benji Thompson. As the films progresses, Elliot discovers his long-lost brother is not only alive, but known on every street corner as a ruthless gang leader. The role of Elliot Thompson is one of a young man of questionable identity who must come to grips with who he really is and what family means. The character was difficult as there was so much complex emotion to portray and such a small span of time in which to do it. Zigmund really draws you into his life and there is never a doubt in the viewer’s mind that he is Elliot Thompson and not just Chad Zigmund trying to play a character.
John Wells plays the long-lost brother, Isaac who runs a street gang. Wells has such a great face for this role. Though he’s not been in very many Christian films, I hope to see John Wells in more high-caliber films like this one. The character of a strong gang leader and yet one who still feels fear and humanity is a rough role to portray, but Wells nails it. It helps that he looks and sounds just as the role requires him to. Nod to MenloLights for assembling such a spot on cast.
Anna St. Clair (Shelby Taylor Mullins) is a pitch perfect casting selection for a young, ambitious friend/professional investigator. It wasn’t overly clear exactly what the character of Anna was supposed to be: a consequence of finagling a feature length film into 30 minutes of play time. However, though the backstory seems to take a back seat for her character, she somehow still makes us feel like we know her personally. Her character is never forced or out of place, every time she is on screen it feels like she belongs there.
I also felt that I’d seen her somewhere before. When glancing over her IMDB profile I saw “The Ultimate Legacy” on her list of credits. I watched the Hallmark film for my buddy Torry Martin and recognized her from that.
The man with the most extensive film career in this short film and the most credits to his name is definitely Silvio Wolf Busch. Busch, who plays a tough character though a fairly straightforward one as far as characters go, has acted in dozens of secular films with many hot names in the industry like Jon Voight and Shailene Woodley. In this short film he gets a small portion of screen time but when he is on screen he is all pro. I like Silvio’s character because the actor makes him so natural, so real. You can feel what the character feels. It seems as if God pulled together a group of actors in need of film like this, there was a visible effort by the cast to get into the story as if they were already connected with the characters and the premise in some way.
The acting was stellar for a short film. My only major regret acting wise was that it was a short film. I would’ve loved to see these people in a feature of this story. I loved it, but it made me want more.
Josiah Stendel. You’ve got to give this young man a lot of credit for the job he did with this short film and the level of excellence for which he is visibly striving. There is a bright future ahead of this young director. I find more and more young filmmakers entering this industry of Christian film and raising the bar for what professionalism in the genre should be. Names like Daniel Knudsen, Joe Henline, Nathan Jacobsen, and Caleb Vetter are ones to watch for. Great things are soon to come from these driven young men, each of whom I’ve worked with and come to know over the past year. After seeing his work and speaking with Josiah a little, I think he can easily be added to this list and join the ranks of future greats in filmmaking!
In summary, there was nothing in this film that made me wish I hadn’t agreed to review it. I thoroughly enjoyed this short film and so will you, I promise.
This is where things get exciting. This is where you are going to want to be a part of this film’s mission and movement. God is all over this project and some of the miracles He has worked already through this film have to do with the upcoming premiere.
An anonymous donor rented out the Kentucky Theater in Lexington, KY and invited the filmmakers to set up a red carpet premiere event. That’s a God thing! But even better than that, the mission of Director Stendel and MenloLights is that all profits from the film would go to an adoption assistance fund- they give interest free loans to families looking to adopt. In time the donation made by “Orphaned Courage” will be used to bring many orphans into loving homes of their own. If for no other reason, support this film because of its mission and goal.
I’m not just here to promote the film, I’m also here to invite you to the premiere if you are in the area. The premiere will take place in Lexington, KY on September 22. You can watch for the time and any changes to this on the film’s Facebook page and even buy tickets online for the premiere by clicking here.
As always, thanks for reading.
–the anonymous novelist