MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A feature film produced by a Memphis church is hitting theaters this weekend. The church produced the movie hoping to drive home an important message through the power of theatrical entertainment.
Last fall, CBN News had the exclusive premiere of the trailer for the movie "The Grace Card." Click here to watch the movie's trailer.
"The Grace Card" was produced by Graceworks Pictures and Calvary Pictures, a newly created arm of Calvary Church in Cordova, Tenn. It is scheduled to be released on Friday, Feb. 25.
The Players Behind the Scenes
The film is one of the first projects veteran Hollywood producer Howard Klausner has tackled since returning home to Tennessee with his family.
"Certainly, it is a play of course on the race card," Klausner said while taking a break from editing in his Nashville studio. "This is the story of a black cop and white cop and it is not all happy."
Klausner adds this Christian movie to his film credits which include Clint Eastwood's "Space Cowboys," "Dirty Harry," and "Outlaw Dreams." He said he feels the time has come for Christians to engage in a conversation about race.
"I think Christians have been silent on race because just like grace, it is tough stuff," Klausner told CBN News. "It's hard. It's uncomfortable."
The story centers on Memphis police officers Mac McDonald and Sam Wright. Personal tragedies have filled McDonald with anger at blacks, himself, and God. McDonald is partnered with Wright, a black rising star on the force who is also a pastor, husband, and father.
The story was written by David Evans, a Memphis eye doctor and an active member of Calvary Church.
"I think what sets this film apart is it's gritty from the standpoint that it shows a side of Memphis that has not really been portrayed in movies before," Evans told CBN News in an interview outside the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered more than 40 years ago.
"I know in my heart the difference that this is going to make," he continued. "There are certain things you just know that God puts in your heart and says 'David it is all going to be okay.'"
Prior to "The Grace Card" production, Evans' only entertainment experience was directing the annual Easter production for his church. But for a first-time filmmaker, Evans scored major talent. Academy Award winning actor Louis Gossett Jr. signed on to play a retired civil rights leader and Officer Wright's grandfather.
"He sent him the script and I am happy to say the next day Mr. Gossett himself called and said it is a beautiful script, I would like to do it," Klausner said, recalling how Evans managed to get a copy of his script to Gossett's agent and then to Gossett himself.
Evans' fellow church members also signed on as actors, extras, crew members, and caterers. They volunteered more than 10,000 hours, working day and night to shoot a feature film in 28 days.
Comedian Michael Joiner plays Mac McDonald, the ticking time-bomb. Joiner has written for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and is one of the country's top "clean" comedians. But he said this is a dream role he received after packing up and leaving Hollywood.
"When I saw it, I was like, this is what I have been praying for as a Christian and as an actor," Joiner said. "I couldn't believe the drama. The intensity."
"I am not sure what God is going to do," he continued. "I never want to be presumptuous, but I have a feeling I am right in the middle of something big and I needed that because I went through some tough times in L.A."
The Memphis side of the story is more personal for Memphis native Michael Higgenbottom, who is making his film debut in the role of Sam Wright.
"I would say that Memphis has a long way to go as far as getting past the racial divide," Higgenbottom said, taking a break from shooting a night scene for the film. "
"We still have two different governments here in the city," he explained. "You have the Shelby County government and then you have the Memphis City government. You have the majority of caucasians living here and the majority of blacks living here."
Memphis has a starring role in this Christian film, but the city also has a leading role in real-life civil rights history. Just one day before he was shot and killed, King delivered his famous "I've been to the Mountain Top" speech in support of Memphis sanitation workers facing racism.
"Even still today, I just think there is still some smoldering fires that all it takes is a spark to ignite tension," said David Evans, while sitting outside the Lorraine Motel, which is now the National Civil Rights Museum.
"The Grace Card" is scheduled to release in theaters February 25, 2010 and Evans prays its debut will ease racial tension, start a conversation, and spark hope.
"I believe there are great mountains still to be moved," Evans said. "But it is happening and I felt it for the last 28 days of filming this movie. I can feel it happening."
*Originally published January 15, 2010.