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EPISODE #232
EMPOWERED BY THE SPIRIT: THE DIVINE MERCY CULTURE

On this week’s program, Steve welcomes Alexis Walkenstein back to the show. Alexis has a fascinating background working in media and network TV for many years; and, she is now an accomplished film producer and author. She has worked on dozens of faith-based films in recent years, including UNPLANNED, BREAKTHROUGH and FATIMA.

On today’s installment, our focus is on the Divine Mercy that Jesus offers.. and its evidence in the culture all around us!

Tune in and share this fascinating discussion.

 

 

 

 

Originally broadcast on 2/23/2020

BIG PUSH MADE FOR MEXICAN PREMIERE OF ‘UNPLANNED’ MOVIE

WASHINGTON (CNS) — For U.S. elections, candidates and political parties may develop something they call a “50-state strategy.” 

But for the Oct. 25 premiere in Mexico of the Spanish-language version of “Unplanned,” actor Eduardo Verastegui, the movie’s executive producer, has employed a 32-state strategy. 

So far, Verastegui has visited 16 of Mexico’s 32 states to host screenings prior to the premiere of “Inesperado” (literally, “Unexpected” in Spanish), took a few days off for the nationwide debut, and was gearing up to visit the other 16 states. 

Regardless of language, the film tells the story of Abby Johnson, one of the youngest Planned Parenthood clinic directors in the United States, who changed her views once she witnessed an abortion and became an ardent pro-life advocate. 

“I met Abby Johnson 10 years ago,” Verastegui told Catholic News Service during an Oct. 21 phone interview from Guadalajara, Mexico, prior to his 14th “Inesperado” screening. After hearing Johnson tell her story, he said, “my admiration for her went to the sky.” 

He became attached to “Unplanned” eight months before its March 29 U.S. debut. 

His Mexico tour itinerary, Verastegui said, usually includes a news conference in the morning. “Then we go to a school. A full day of activities where we talk about the importance of defending life from conception to natural death,” he said. 

The tours also take him to “jails for lawyers to prove their (clients’) innocence. We need to be there as well,” he told CNS. “Pro-life means to protect every life, not just one type of life. Every life matters.” 

The reaction so far, Verastegui said, has been “amazing.” He cited turnout of 600 to 800 for the first round of premieres, topping out at 1,000 in San Luis Potosi. 

On life issues in Mexico, he said, “we are the majority. Sometimes the majority’s not very well connected. The minorities, they have the money, they have the connections and they have the marketing. They make a lot of noise.” 

Verastegui added he has been asked at news conferences, “How do you feel going against the current?” His response: “I’m not against the current. The majority of Mexico is pro-life — 85 percent.” 

Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico City consecrated “Inesperado” to Our Lady of Guadalupe at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The film was placed discreetly at the altar during a Mass Sept. 1. Cardinal Aguiar met with Johnson and filmmaker Cary Solomon and his wife, Irene Solomon, and their son, Michael, along with co-director Chuck Konzelman. Verastegui led the event and private meeting. 

Solomon and Konzelman, in an Oct. 23 phone interview with CNS, said they are going all-out to distribute dubbed and subtitled versions of “Unplanned” worldwide. 

Solomon said “Unplanned” is being dubbed not only into Mexican Spanish to be used throughout Central America as well, but Castilian Spanish for Spain and “neutral” Spanish for South America. The movie is also being dubbed into languages for screening in Singapore, Malaysia, Brazil, Germany, French, Poland, Caribbean dialects, and Quebecois French for Canada. 

“We sent the movie to the South Pole. That gives you a sense of our commitment,” Solomon said. “There’s 150 people at the South Pole station, and they got it.” 

He added “Unplanned” will be shown in a local language “anywhere where there’s demand. We want to take this film to every country on the face of the earth, including territories and islands. You want the people to experience as best they can the subject matter. In a lot of cases, people are so excited to get this film they were willing to pay for the dubbing or the subtitles. That’s amazing.” 

While other of their movies have been translated into other languages, “everything makes it different” for “Unplanned,” Konzelman said. “The other films for the most part were entertainment. This film is about a pressing issue and a controversial issue. It’s been controversial in every country and every continent to varying degrees.” 

Solomon pronounced himself and Konzelman “very comfortable” with Verastegui as executive producer. “He’s a holy guy,” he said. “We were looking for people that had tremendous passion. And he’s that person. He loves the movie and he wants to save babies.” 

Verastegui has that on his own resume. He said people ask him, “Are you an actor? Are you a producer?” His answer “No, I save babies.” “That’s my end. That’s the main purpose of everything I’m doing.” 

He took on that mantle 15 years ago when doing research for the 2006 movie “Bella,” which dealt with a young woman being confronted with the choice to abort her baby or to carry the child to term. Verastegui was in an abortion clinic and met a couple who had an appointment for an abortion, and he told them why he was there. They reconsidered their decision to have an abortion and had the baby instead — naming the boy Eduardo after Verastegui.   “That’s when I started giving my life to the most beautiful job anyone can have — to save life,” he said.

EPISODE #211
EMPOWERED BY THE SPIRIT: CHRISTIAN MEDIA IN 2019

On this week’s program, Steve welcomes a dynamic woman named Alexis Walkenstein back to the show. Alexis has a fascinating background working in media and network TV for many years; and, she is now an accomplished film producer and author. She has worked on dozens of faith-based films in recent years, including UNPLANNED and BREAKTHROUGH.

As for books, her most recent is in collaboration with Pauline Media and it’s entitled, “Ex Libris – Fulton J. Sheen.”

Tune in and share this fascinating discussion..

 

 

 

 

Originally broadcast on 9/8/19

‘UNPLANNED’ ACTRESS ESTABLISHES SCHOLARSHIP FOR PREGNANT WOMEN

Columbus, Ohio, Aug 18, 2019 / 04:55 pm (CNA) – Ashley Bratcher, lead actress in the pro-life movie “Unplanned,” has helped establish a scholarship for women pursing an education during an unexpected pregnancy.

“Women can pursue their careers, live out their dreams, and have richer, more fulfilling lives while balancing motherhood. Sometimes, it just takes a little help,” Bratcher said in a recent press release from Heartbeat International.

“I wanted to be a part of empowering mothers to chase their dreams and to provide a means for those who choose life to continue their educations.”

The scholarship, called the Unplanned Movie Scholarship, will give $5,000 annually for a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy. It can go toward educational educational opportunities including college or trade school.

The project is backed by Heartbeat International, a pro-life agency providing pregnancy resources to expecting mothers in over 2,000 locations worldwide.

“Not only will the scholarship financially support the decision of mothers to continue their education, but it will also connect them to an organization that will support them throughout their pregnancy and beyond,” Bratcher added.

Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International, said the scholarship will help expecting mothers embrace education and life.

“Tucked into Unplanned is a vivid reminder that education can present an obstacle to accepting the new life within,” said Godsey.

“The Unplanned Movie Scholarship will be a lifeline to a young mom’s future as she makes the brave choice to embrace motherhood.”

Bratcher played Abby Johnson in the movie, “Unplanned.” The story follows the life of Johnson, a former clinic director for Planned Parenthood, who had a conversion experience after witnessing the horrors of abortion. Today, Johnson is a pro-life advocate and the director of And Then There Were None, a ministry that helps other abortion workers leave the industry.

Following the movie’s release, numerous women reached out to Bratcher to share their stories of difficult pregnancy situations. Andrea Trudden, director of communications for Heartbeat International, told CNA that many women shared a common conflict – they needed financial support to finish their education.

“After the release of ‘Unplanned,’ Ashley had a lot of different questions from moms who were reaching out sharing their stories about their unplanned pregnancies,” she said.

“The education aspect tended to be one of the hurdles.”

Trudden said the scholarship’s development is still underway. She said applicants will be recommended from one of the agency’s pregnancy help centers, where the mothers’ needs will be best addressed.

“[Pregnancy centers] provide parenting classes and financial classes. We are able to couple what we do through these pregnancy health organizations with the woman who wants to continue her education,” she said.

“We are really looking at exactly how to partner with our pregnancy help organizations in order to provide the funds to the women.”

She said the scholarship will begin accepting applicants at the end of this year, after the organization receives enough funds. The scholarship is now accepting donations at www.UnplannedMovieScholarship.com.

Trudden said the opportunity will provide women the support they need to pursue their education, but it also presents a bigger message.

“Women can have careers, they can have fulfilling lives and be mothers. It’s not an either-or situation,” she said.

“We want to do everything we can to support the mothers during these hard decisions, to help prepare her for motherhood and … [provide her with] everything she needs to get through her pregnancy in a loving and caring way so she can positive choices for her life.”

EPISODE #195
EMPOWERED BY THE SPIRIT: THE MAKING OF THE FILM “UNPLANNED”

Today’s broadcast of EBTS is truly one of the most engaging, powerful programs we’ve ever presented. Deacon Steve is excited to welcome the two gentlemen who helped to make the hugely successful film, “Unplanned” come to fruition.

We salute Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman for their tenacious, hard work in creating a pro-life film that is sure to change hearts and minds worldwide.

 

 

 

Originally broadcast on 5/19/19

AN UNPLANNED EXPERIENCE

I wanted to take a few minutes before you see my movie “Unplanned” to talk to you. Mom-to-mom. Parent-to-parent. As you know, the movie received an R rating from the MPAA, and I imagine that may make you nervous about allowing your children to see it. Setting aside that, it feels a little weird to have a movie made about my life, and even weirder to be told that my life is “rated R.” I want to tell you, as a mother, what you can expect from the film: The movie does not have profanity. The Lord’s Name is not taken in vain or disrespected. There is no nudity, no immodesty, and certainly no sex or “suggestive” moments. None. 

So why the R rating? For two scenes. Two scenes that the movie team was determined to re-create accurately, at my insistence, because they are important for people to see. The first is a CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) recreation of what I saw on the ultrasound screen when I assisted in the abortion procedure that convinced me of the humanity of the unborn. 

You will see what I saw: a baby on an ultrasound screen in black and white 2D. You will see the abortion instrument, which looks like a big straw in real life and like a dark line on the ultrasound, introduced onto the screen. You will see the baby struggle against it. You will see the baby first slowly, then quickly disappear into the instrument as it does what it is designed to do. 

It is important for you to know that this was a CGI recreation and NOT footage from a real abortion. But it sure looks like what I saw. I think this scene is so important for teenagers and older children to see because it tells the truth about what our culture keeps trying to insist is a “right” and a “freedom.” No one will be able to see this scene and then say they “don’t know” the truth about abortion. 

The second scene that was cited as a reason for the R rating is a scene that re-creates my awful experience with the abortion pill. Ashley, the actress who plays me, did a fantastic job capturing both my physical pain and my fear. I won’t lie to you; that scene shows some blood. In real life I hemorrhaged so badly I thought I was going to die. The movie captures that without being gratuitous or gory. I think the producers walked that line well. 

The rest of the film is not as intense as those two scenes. It will make you laugh, make you cringe, gasp, cry, and cheer — all the things a good movie should. The difference with “Unplanned” is that it has the potential to change and save lives in the process. 

So, should you take your kids to see this movie? I can’t decide for you, but I will tell you that my twelve-year-old daughter will see it. I can tell you my friends who have pre-screened the film plan on bringing their 10, 11, and 12-year-olds along with their teenagers to see it, and I hope you will do the same. Our children are of the generation who is being lost to abortion. This is personal for them too. They are likely to hear and see more graphic content in most school health classes! I guess what I’m trying to say is, this movie is authentic. Yes, it’s a movie about abortion, but even more so, it’s a movie about the truth of forgiveness, repentance, and redemption, because that is what the story of my life is really about. 

See you at the movies.

‘UNPLANNED’ SCREENED AT CHRIST CATHEDRAL CAMPUS

“Abby, they need an extra person back in the exam room. Are you free?” So opens the upcoming feature film drama, “Unplanned.” An advance screening was held at Christ Cathedral’s Freed Theater on Mar. 1.  

Based on the autobiographical book of the same name by Abby Johnson, “Unplanned” follows Johnson (played by Ashley Bratcher) as a rising star within Planned Parenthood as a counselor and later director at a Bryan/College Station, TX clinic, and her involvement in 22,000 abortions despite reservations from her husband Doug and her mother and father.  

Johnson develops a gradual friendship with Coalition for Life (now known as 40 Days for Life) members constantly holding vigil outside the clinic. Eventually, Johnson must confront her own misgivings about the career she has chosen, following a harrowing experience in the clinic. 

At Christ Cathedral’s advance screening, Bishop Kevin Vann spoke to the packed audience prior to the film’s showing. Citing the example of his mother, the late Theresa Vann, a perinatal nurse and health educator for nearly 50 years, Bishop Vann reinforced the need for tireless advocacy for the sanctity of life.  

Following the screening, Diocese of Orange Chancellor Dr. Pia de Solenni hosted a panel discussion featuring Yvonne Florzak Seeman, founder of Love From Above, a ministry for post-abortive women, and pro-life activist Jason Jones of Movie to Movement, a producer of the 2006 film, “Bella.” 

Two cast members from “Unplanned” also participated in the panel, Robia Scott and Kaiser Johnson. The actors discussed their involvement in a film seen as going against the grain of typical Hollywood fare. Johnson acknowledged the career risk in associating with such a film as “Unplanned.”  

“I’m a Christian and pro-life,” Johnson said, who plays an attorney in the film. He said the film’s themes prompted him to question his own acting roles. “Am I living [my values] in the choices I make artistically?”  

Orange County resident Robia Scott, who portrayed Cheryl, Abby Johnson’s supervisor at Planned Parenthood, came out of retirement to participate in the film after a chance meeting with “Unplanned” filmmakers Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman. Scott noted the film’s themes resonated with her own full-time work as a Christian speaker, teacher, and founder of Robia Ministries. 

“I saw her driven and passionate,” Scott said of her character. “Yet for her it wasn’t so much caring about the people as it was about building an empire.”  

Solomon and Konzelman, screenwriters behind “God’s Not Dead,” “God’s Not Dead 2,” and “Do You Believe?,” among other works, co-wrote and directed “Unplanned” on a budget of about $6 million. Pure Flix is distributing the film, the production company behind feature films such as the “God’s Not Dead” series, “The Case for Christ,” and last year’s “Samson.”  

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rated “Unplanned” R for its depiction of abortion procedures. “The fact that the MPAA deemed abortion as enough of a violent act to give it an R-rating says something in itself,” Scott said.  

Abby Johnson herself is now the CEO and Founder of And Then There Were None, a nonprofit that “exists to help assist abortion clinic workers leave the abortion industry,” according to its website, abortionworker.com. Johnson and her husband converted to Catholicism in 2012. They are now expecting their eighth child.  

“Unplanned” is slated to be released nationwide on Mar. 29. Tickets are available at unplannedfilm.com.

CATHOLIC SCHOOL GRADUATE HAS ROLE IN PRO-LIFE FILM ‘UNPLANNED’

WILMINGTON, Del. (CNS) — Maura Corsini, who graduated four years ago from a Catholic high school in Delaware, has landed a role in the upcoming film “Unplanned,” which tells the story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood administrator who converted to the pro-life movement.

In the movie, Corsini portrays Megan, Johnson’s co-worker and friend.

“I always had the idea that I just wanted to move to Los Angeles and start a career right away,” she told The Dialog, newspaper of the Wilmington Diocese.

After graduating from Archmere, a Catholic school founded by the Norbertine fathers in Claymont, she attended a conservatory program in New York and spent several months at an acting school there. In January 2015, she moved to Los Angeles without a job or an agent.

The opportunity to appear in “Unplanned” unfolded unconventionally. Corsini had been in touch with the movie’s producers, then lost contact until one of them was a customer in the restaurant where she worked.

She got an audition and was on the “Unplanned” set in Stillwater, Oklahoma, three months later.

Corsini’s character works at Planned Parenthood with Johnson. “We’re very, very close friends and I go on this journey with her. It’s me, her and this other girl, Taylor. Do we stay at Planned Parenthood or leave? We’re really the three who are trying to get out.”

She was told that she might develop a niche for acting in roles that help deliver a message in society, and that really appeals to her.

“I want to be an actress because I want to inspire people by large numbers. I want people to leave the theater thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, my life has been changed.'”

Details of the film’s rollout are still being developed, but it’s expected to open in select theaters. An article in The Hollywood Reporter said its release can be expected next year.

The film is guaranteed to draw attention from people on both sides of the abortion debate.

“We’re not condoning the extremist view on either side. We’re just trying to show you the truth. And that’s what this film does so beautifully. You can watch this film and find bits and pieces of truth,” she said.

Corsini likens the clash of social viewpoints to the current state of politics.

“It’s like both extremists don’t even acknowledge that there are extremists on each side,” she said. “People aren’t listening. They’re waiting to talk. It’s really important to look at life from all different perspectives, because if you don’t, you won’t really know what truth is.”

Corsini hopes this role springboards her into other projects.

“I’d love to eventually get a degree,” she said. “My dream would be to be a stable actress and have time to get a degree. But I’m learning a lot of different lessons … and a lot of that comes with acting. I feel like I’m learning in different ways, but a lot.”

As for professional work, she’s done some short films, two TV pilots that didn’t get picked up, and a play or two.

“This is first notable thing, which I’m thrilled about,” she said.

Her Catholic upbringing and strong belief in preserving life don’t always jibe with the majority viewpoint in the movie industry.

“The hardest thing about being an actress before you’re established is you’re constantly auditioning for things that you might hate, and you still have to give 110 percent to that audition,” she said. “That’s what I kept running into. ‘You have to wear this. You have to look this way. You have to be this weight and this height. Or else you can’t come to this audition.’ It’s all this pressure of trying not to sacrifice your morals for a job. And at the end of the day, it’s just a job.”

Cary Solomon, writer of the movie “God’s Not Dead” and one of the driving forces of “Unplanned,” has reminded Corsini about the social climate in California.

She said he warned her that Hollywood is “very, very pro-choice” and she should be “prepared for the backlash” for being in this type of movie.

The potential backlash is not a concern for Corsini, especially if she gets to pursue her dream while maintaining a level of morality.

As she put it: “If I get to do an acting job, and then also have it sit well morally with me — and know that I’m trying to inspire and trying to make the world a better place — there’s nothing more that I could ask for.”