Filmmaker Richard Rossi Explores Controversial Side of Female Faith Healer in "Aimee Semple McPherson"

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Independent filmmaker Richard Rossi's new feature "Aimee Semple McPherson" is embraced by critics, but condemned by religious officials. Rossi reveals the human side of the sexy 1920's female faith healer who mysteriously vanished in 1926. Ron Howard's father Rance Howard delivers a strong performance. The film also stars Kiera Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin.

"Aimee Semple McPherson," the new feature film by minister turned producer Richard Rossi, has stirred up an international controversy by exploring the human side of the fabled female evangelist known as "Sister Aimee." The Pentecostal Foursquare church she founded released an international press release condemning the film in an attempt to stop their 32,000 congregations from seeing the film.

Aimee McPherson was front-page news in the Roaring Twenties for her media innovations as a theatrical radio preacher, but most of all for her mysterious disappearance in 1926 at Venice Beach. She claimed she was kidnapped, but the Los Angeles District Attorney brought her to trial, alleging she faked it to run off with her married boyfriend.

Her life has been the subject of other movies like "Elmer Gantry" with Burt Lancaster and "Disappearance of Aimee" with Faye Dunaway and Bette Davis, but Christianity Today magazine said "auteur Richard Rossi goes much deeper, probing the lonliness of this charismatic figure."

Director Ron Howard's father Rance Howard delivers a powerful performance as Aimee's father, and Charlie Chaplin's granddaughter Kiera Chaplin also stars. "My grandfather was close with her, and he loved going to her temple and listening to her amazing sermons," Chaplin said.

Rossi said his own history as a Pentecostal healing evangelist enabled him to make the film. "This movie reflects my own brokenness," he said. "The higher I was lifted up on a religious pedestal, the more isolated I became. It's very lonely. Aimee's story, like mine is a story of grace, and it's grace that gives us sinners hope."

"Exploring Aimee's longing for a man and her fleshly desires does not diminish all the miraculous things God did through her," associate producer Jeff Griffith said. "Richard does not canonize or condemn her, he shows how an anointed woman of God is human."

Foursquare church spokesman Ron Williams commented to the Christian Examiner, "Our members find the film misleading." Despite Willaims comments, Foursquare pastor Rev. Ed Donnelly wrote a review praising the film and it's accuracy in the current issue of Charisma magazine, a periodical reaching 250,000 Pentecostal Christians.

Rough cut screenings of the film sold-out this summer at the Screen Actor's Guild and at the Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. Audience feedback assisted Rossi in trimming his three-hour rough cut down to it's current running time of 100 minutes. The much-anticipated final cut of the film will be premiering at film festivals in January.

Rossi readily admits his ministerial history, depression and subsequent recovery were motivating factors in making the film. "He's the first to make a journey from evangelical preacher to Hollywood writer-director, and it has been a little engine-that could story," Griffith said.

Despite the persecution from Pentecostals over his movie, Rossi says he has no regrets. "What aggravates some, blesses others. By making a movie about a healer, I healed my own wounds," Rossi said.

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