By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
MONROE – Rodney Ray didn’t start his latest screen venture planning to address the issue of suicide.[img_assist|nid=7841|title=Movie: New Hope|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=640|height=373]
What the owner of R-Squared Productions had in mind was a film about teen-age angst that could be shot during the summer, when most students are out of school. The film was to follow the success of 2010’s Flag of my Father, which took first place at the GI Film Festival in Washington D.C. last May.
But at least four high school students committed suicide in Ouachita Parish during the 2010-2011 school year, and when he heard that, Ray’s script-writing flowed in a new direction.
“Our small community – Monroe has a population of about 48,815 – has had more than 20 suicides in the last year,” said Ray, a member of First Baptist Church of West Monroe, where John Avant is pastor. “Hopefully, New Hope will help break that stronghold locally, nationally and globally.”
New Hope is a film set for release Feb. 10; a pastors’ preview is set for Jan 24 at First West.
“It’s about a community dealing with the effects of a suicide,” Ray explained. “It picks up at the one-year anniversary of the death of a student who took his life.”
The film addresses teen drinking, sexual temptation and bullying, as well as suicide, the emotions of those left behind after a suicide, parenting skills and intervention techniques.
“You’ve got to be careful the way you address the parenting issue,” Ray said. “Things aren’t easy when you have a high school kid. I have four and they’re all different and unique. What works with one doesn’t work with another. But there are fundamental truths in dealing with the parenting process.”
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, every suicide leaves six people to deal with the tragedy.
“Suicide, especially teen suicide, is difficult for those left behind to cope with its aftermath,” Ray said. “As a filmmaker, I do not have all the answers, but can hopefully bring attention and healthy conversation to a very difficult situation.”
One of Ray’s goals for the film is that every student beyond elementary school in Ouachita Parish will see the film, the producer said. It’s potentially as powerful for their parents as it is for middle-, junior- and senior high school students.
“The movie was written in part to help adults understand the issue of suicide,” Ray said. “To accompany the movie we are preparing a study guide that will help parents of teens, church ministers and leaders. Dr. Joneal Kirby is preparing the study guide titled; Hope for Your Family, A Guide for Parents. The six-week study combines clips from the movie with Bible teachings and real-life applications along with stimulating questions and well-researched answers to help the small group or class participants route their way through many of the topics that are challenging teens today.”
Kirby – Ph.D, LMFT – is director of the Christian Counseling and Resource Center in West Monroe.
[img_assist|nid=7842|title=Scene from New Hope|desc=New Hope was filmed entirely in Ouachita Parish. The film highlights basketball and cheerleading talent from several area high schools.|link=none|align=right|width=640|height=427]The film has no gratuitous – unnecessary – violence, but it does include some intense scenes of bullying that might be disconcerting for elementary school-age children, the producer said.
“Our stuff is a lot tamer than you might find on prime time television, but since this is a faith-based film, we want folks to know these situations do come up in the film,” Ray said.
New Hope stars Samuel Davis, Perry Frost and Ben Davies, who most recently played the youngest police officer in the recently-released Courageous film by Sherwood Productions, Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.
The film also includes appearances by Andrew Whitworth, coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, and hundreds of extras. New Hope was filmed entirely in Ouachita Parish; the film highlights basketball and cheerleading talent from several area high schools.
An exclusive pre-screening for pastors and school/community leaders is set for 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24, at First West.
“This will be an opportunity for pastors and other leaders to see the film and endorse it before it’s released,” Ray said. “Just from viewing the trailer, we have already garnered national attention, including major distributors. When our area pastors see the film, we believe they will understand the true value of the movie and its potential to change lives. Their support and endorsement will truly help take New Hope to the next level.”
The black tie, red carpet premiere is set for 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, at First West. Tickets are available on thewww.r2films.com website.
“New Hope was made to encourage our most precious resource, our children,” Ray said. “As we point out in the movie, they truly are fearfully and wonderfully made.”