By Katherine Pullen
Silver stilettos and polished black shoes tread confidently across the red carpet at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Memphis, Feb. 22. Hundreds came out for the premiere of “The Grace Card,” a feature-length movie set and filmed in Memphis that will be released in theaters across the country Feb. 25.
“The Grace Card” was directed and produced by Dr. David Evans, a Memphis-based ophthalmologist working on his first foray into movie-making. It stars Michael Higgenbottom and Michael Joiner and features Academy Award and Emmy winner Louis Gossett Jr.
The film was not originally slated for release in Jackson, but community members rallied to sell enough seats on opening weekend to bring the movie to the city. Evans said 2,500 out of 3,500 available seats for the weekend have already been purchased.
“We’re just a few seats away from the movie being sold out the whole weekend in Jackson,” Evans said.
The film follows the lives of two Memphis police officers, one black and one white, who struggle against hatred, anger and hurt to seek reconciliation and offer grace.
Mac McDonald, played by Michael Joiner, is a white police officer who has been angry at God since his young son was killed in a hit-and-run by a black drug dealer 17 years earlier.
He is partnered with Sam Wright, played by Michael Higgenbottom, a black man who moonlights as a cop so he can support his family while he works to get his ministry off the ground as the pastor of a fledgling church.
When tragedy strikes, the two partners must reconcile their differences and learn to give grace to the people who have hurt them the most.
“It’s about asking the Lord to help us as a body of believers, as Christians, to really come together and get rid of the racial divide,” said Cindy Hodge, who plays Dr. Vines.
The story of “The Grace Card” was originally developed for the annual Easter passion play at Calvary Church in Cordova, Tenn. In 2008, Evans saw “Fireproof” in theaters and was inspired to turn his story into a full-length film. “Fireproof” was produced by Sherwood Pictures, a ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.
Evans had overseen the production of Calvary Church’s passion plays, requiring elaborate sets and a cast and crew of about 250 people, since 1994, but had no experience in professional filmmaking.
He sought help from his friends at Calvary Church and connections in the filmmaking industry to turn his ideas into a bona fide movie. To help with this, Evans brought on a professional screenwriter, Howard A. Klausner, best known for writing the Clint Eastwood-directed movie “Space Cowboys.”
As Evans and others began casting the film, they invited Gossett to play the role of Grandpa George, a mentor and voice of reason for Sam Wright. Gossett said he took the role because he is passionate about the message of racial reconciliation and feels that the country needs to hear what the movie has to say.
For most of the cast, “The Grace Card” is their first film-acting role. For some, like Rob Erickson, who plays Mac’s underachieving son Blake, it is their first acting role of any kind.
“To see what God can do through a second-grade teacher, a pastor’s wife, a comedian and a student, to see that he can take no professional skills at all and turn them into what we saw (in the movie), is unreal,” Erickson said.
The cast and crew are mostly comprised of locals from West Tennessee and members of Calvary Church. Many of them worked on a volunteer basis because they believe the message of the movie is important to Memphis, West Tennessee and the nation as a whole.
During a Q-and-A session with the cast and crew after the premiere screening of the movie, a man who identified himself as one of Evans’ ophthalmology patients said, “You’ve made us see something in a very different way than we have before.”
He said he feels the message of the movie is something that is especially needed “at this particular time in our city, in our country, in our state and in our world.”