"Aimee Semple McPherson" Wins Best Independent Film, "Azusa Street" Next For Auteur Richard Rossi

Share Article

"Aimee Semple McPherson" Wins Best Independent Film, Director Richard Rossi Will Make "Azusa Street" Next.

Richard Rossi was beaming last night as he accepted awards for Best New Director and Best Independent Film for his feature "Aimee Semple McPherson" at a gala Studio City ceremony sponsored by the International Independent Film Commission. He announced production on "Azusa Street," his next project, (a prequel to his exploration of fabled female faith-healer "Sister" Aimee.)

Aimee Semple McPherson was a flamboyant evangelist in the Roaring Twenties, known as much for front-page scandal as for her religious innovations. The biopic unearths the human being behind the mythology, the woman of flesh underneath the gospel legend.

IIFC Vice President Edmund Denis said, "Richard has inspired guerrilla filmmakers worldwide to greenlight themselves and make art with whatever is available. He transformed the liabilities of a no-budget set and a consumer camcorder into assets that accentuated the 1920's sepia look, flickering style, and overall documentary mood of the film."

Rossi's film started when a friend, Jeff Griffith, bought him several camcorders, surprizing Rossi at his doorstep. Griffith gave the equipment on the condition he started shooting that day. Rossi located an actor friend and improvised a scene, which remains in the finished film.

Accepting the honor, Rossi said, "I'm grateful our film has inspired others to take a leap of faith and make their own stories. Leap and the net will appear. It's better to make art with what you have than not at all. I see a sea of democratic creativity, filmmaking by faith!"

The film was made under a special Screen Actor's Guild Experimental Film program for movies made with budgets under $75,000.00 The Guild honored the film previously with a special LA screening as part of their SAG Conversations program. Rossi spoke at the event, along with actor Rance Howard (Ron Howard's father). Howard delivers a critically acclaimed performance as Aimee's father.

Newcomer Mimi Michaels portrays McPherson from her teenage years to her death. Charlie Chaplin's granddaughter Kiera Chaplin also shines as McPherson's nemesis. In addition to writing and acting, Rossi also stars as McPherson's husband David Hutton.

"The film gets at the profundity of the lonliness of the human condition," actor Andre Lesner commented. "Richard Rossi shows a healer who could not heal herself. She struggled with the unrealistic expectations of her congregants and also with her burgeoning celebrity in Hollywood."

The story of the healing evangelist has a Hollywood pedigree, having been portrayed by Bette Davis and Faye Dunaway in the 1970's TV movie "The Disappearance of Aimee," by Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons in the Oscar-winner "Elmer Gantry" (1960), but most reviews agree Rossi probes much deeper into the charismatic figure in his artistically praised work.

"The film is really a metaphor for my own life," Rossi admitted, reflecting on his own ministerial work in healing evangelism. Rossi and his wife Sherrie, recently started Eternal Grace, a new Tinseltown church for artists and people in recovery.

"The primary message of the film is God's love, compassion, forgiveness, and grace," Rossi said. Sobs were heard throughout the auditorium at the screening of the film. Film executive Lisa Blair tearfully reacted, "The end visual of Aimee going into the arms of God has a sense of unconditional love and acceptance, in contrast to the judgmentalism religion taught me growing up."

The film has been condemned by the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, the Pentecostal denomination Sister Aimee founded in 1927. Church officials, led by ICFG President Jack Hayford, released press statements calling the film "misleading" for exploring Aimee's human struggles - two divorces, an alleged affair and fake disappearance in 1926, and her death by overdose in 1944.

Other Foursquare pastors have rallied to the film's defense, praising it as "honest," and a "work of genius" in national Christian magazines Charisma, Christianity Today, and Ministries Today. McPherson was a pioneer as a radio preacher and evangelist, long before more familiar names like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson followed in her footsteps.

Production has started on "Azusa Street," Rossi's next historical film about the 1906 revival that birthed Pentecostalism. 100,000 Pentecostals are coming to California next week for the centennial celebration of the events and to hopefully get a glimpse of Rossi filming.'"

"The lead role of Preacher William Seymour is one of the best roles for a black actor in a while," Jeff Griffith commented. "In this age of civil rights struggle, we want to explore the first multiethnic congregation, and how it fragmented at the end due to rascism."


Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Jack Bernstein
Email >