Filmmakers for life
Rebecca Davis
AFA Journal staff writer

March 2012 – The term abortion survivor sounds like an oxymoron. Filmmaker Jon Erwin didn’t even know there was such until he met Gianna Jessen, a vibrant young woman with cerebral palsy who survived a saline abortion in 1977. (See AFA Journal, 3/06.) Moved by her testimony, Jon began to research the term and found story after story of babies who had survived abortion attempts. He was horrified. As a result, October Baby was born.

Set to release March 23 in theaters nationwide, October Baby is a coming-of-age story about a young girl who is trying to find herself. Hannah Lawson suffers from severe asthma. Her health problems worsen, and she discovers a shocking secret: She is adopted. Now, the 19-year-old college freshman feels like her entire life is a lie.

As conflict arises at home with and between her parents as to how much of the truth they should tell Hannah, she joins Jason, her best friend since childhood, and a few quirky friends on a road trip of self-discovery. Hannah finds the nurse who delivered her and is shocked again when she finds out that she survived an abortion.

“The more I researched [abortion survivors], the more I was shattered by [abortion] on a personal level and convicted that we needed to do something about it,” Jon explained. “The Bible says faith without works is dead.”

Convinced it was time for him to take a bold step toward ending abortion by making a pro-life movie, Jon shared his conviction with his brother and filmmaking partner Andrew. Together they are better known as the Erwin Brothers who make films that redeem the culture as they seek to buy it back one movie ticket at a time.

Instead of looking at the subject of abortion as a political issue or a “who’s right” type of issue, Jessen’s testimony gave the brothers a different angle.

“We started to look at it through the eyes of a victim, and that’s a very disarming way to look at it, especially for a filmmaker,” Andrew said. “As a filmmaker, it’s my job to stir the pot a little bit, to shine a spotlight on an issue, to say we need to look at this, talk about it and ask the right questions so people will think about the subject in ways they haven’t thought about it before.”

“A lot of us don’t take a look at what abortion really is and the wake of it and its consequences,” Jon added. “Thirty-five percent of childbearing women will have an abortion, and the numbers are increasing inside the walls of the church.”

Purpose defined
Around the same time that God was opening Jon’s eyes and heart to the horrors of abortion in America, Jon was working for Stephen and Alex Kendrick, creators of Facing the Giants and Fireproof, on the set of Courageous. Jon was second unit director for that movie, which means he was involved in some of the action scenes.

One day Alex asked him: “What’s your purpose, and what’s the purpose of your and Andy’s work?”

Jon wasn’t sure. Until that point, the Erwin brothers had been hired by numerous other artists and filmmakers to work on their projects, which ranged from music videos to documentaries.

“We were working for other people. … We were basically interpreting their vision,” Jon realized.

While there was nothing wrong with that at the time, Alex’s question challenged Jon to really examine their role in the entertainment industry.

“It was very convicting,” Jon admitted, “and I felt like it was time for me and Andy to step out into the great unknown and [respond to] something God put on our hearts.”

October Baby is their first effort to do just that.

Healing encouraged
After 18 years of experience in the industry, they knew a realistic documentary on the subject of abortion would be extremely difficult to watch. So they were challenged to make a movie that is eye-opening, emotional and entertaining, yet infused with compassion.

And they did it.

Viewers will be able to identify with Hannah, relate to the reality of her struggles, engage emotionally, laugh out loud, find healing and walk away challenged.

“At its core, October Baby is a very entertaining, heartwarming, feel-good movie,” Andrew said. “But being able to deal with the subject through the eyes of a victim is beautiful because it allows us to deal with the issue in a compassionate way, not just on the abortion survivor side of things but also [on the side of the] post-abortive woman.”

Shari Rigby, the actor who plays the role of Hannah’s birth mother in the film, actually had an abortion earlier in life, but Jon and Andrew knew nothing of her past when they sent her the script to read.

After reading it, she called Jon in tears and told him that the script was her real-life story. No one knew her story, but she wanted to play the part. By doing so, she experienced an immense amount of healing and forgiveness in her own life.

“So the point of the movie is to encourage healing on all sides of the issue,” Andrew explained.

Forgiveness fostered
Such healing is illustrated through the film’s powerful and poignant theme of forgiveness.

“What made us want to make the movie was to bring awareness to the issue, but then as we journeyed forward, it did become very much a story of forgiveness,” Jon explained. “What you expect to happen in the movie … never really happens. Instead, we boil the movie down to three words: ‘I forgive you.’”

“Jon and Andy handle this subject so delicately while at the same time showing how complex and difficult forgiveness truly is,” said Rachel Hendrix, the actor who plays Hannah. “It’s human nature to expect that the scale be balanced, but grace teaches us a different aspect of the human condition: People deserve forgiveness because it sets us free.”

People from all walks of life have been impacted by the film’s theme of forgiveness, as evident from viewer testimonies after the film ran in select theaters as a limited release in late 2011 in conjunction with Mississippi’s Personhood Initiative.

“Ultimately, October Baby is about personhood,” Jon said. “Instead of talking about the issues, we’re going to meet the person. We’re going to spend 90-minutes with the person.” 

After the Erwin brothers realized they had made the untouchable movie that no one in Hollywood was going to back financially because of the film’s “right-wing agenda,” they began to pray about what to do.

The American Family Association came to the table and helped the brothers launch the limited release. AFA’s American Family Studios has partnered with Provident Films and Gravitas Productions as a producer/owner.

October Baby, with a noteworthy cast that includes John Schneider, Jasmine Guy and Chris Sligh, proved to be hugely successful at the box office. So successful that some Christian businessmen came forward with support, and within 30 days of the limited release, three million dollars had been raised to release the film nationally.

Such backing makes October Baby one of the first Christian films to be released by Christians, instead of a secular studio.

“Passionate Christians [are] putting their money where their beliefs are,” Jon explained.

As a result, October Baby, rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, will release March 23 in about 350 theaters nationwide. A list of theaters, as well as information on how to form an Action Squad and bring the film to a certain area, is available at www.octoberbabymovie.net. Like every film, it’s crucial for it to do well on opening weekend.

“We can make a statement together,” Jon said. “We can stand for life together on March 23” and see what it truly means “to forgive, to love, [and to] live.”  undefined