Nick DiBella had just wrapped several years of work on the 2005 indie teen noir flick "Cherry Crush."
When he looked to his next film project, DiBella decided he wanted to work on something with a more substantive message. He began to pen a gritty tale about a teen who tries to leave behind gang life and settle in to his 18th foster home and the Christian faith he discovered while in prison.
He showed a draft of the script to a friend, who pointed out that DiBella had the makings of a faith-based film.
That launched DiBella, a local Catholic, on a path to make the inspirational film. He admits there were many moments of self-doubt.
"It became like the loaves and the fishes," he recalled. "Am I going to be able to pull this thing off? So many good elements came together — if you just get out of the way and let things happen."
One example of divine intervention he encountered along the way was the casting of Emmy Award-winning actress Lynn Whitfield ("Eve’s Bayou," "The Women of Brewster Place") in the role of a grieving mother, in spite of the film’s microscopic budget. The film also stars James McDaniel ("Malcolm X," "NYPD Blue"), Crawford Wilson ("Judging Amy," "Zoey 101") and Kayla Compton ("Entourage").
It’s an impressive list for the self-taught director and Greece native, who originally worked as an optical engineer for Eastman Kodak Co. He took up filmmaking as a hobby through the Kodak Camera Club using borrowed Kodak Brownie Super 8 movie cameras. After he left Kodak during a round of downsizing, he continued making short films, and one ended up on Showtime.
That film attracted enough attention that he was brought back to Kodak to make short, large-budget marketing films aimed at the film industry.
"They had me tell stories that would show off their film," DiBella said.
He transitioned to writing screenplays, and his 1997 screenplays "Runnin’ Home" and "Address Unknown" were produced for cable television. His 1998 script "Chasing Bobby Jones" was sold to Warner Brothers. In 2001, Warner Brothers hired him to write the remake of the 1950s classic "A Summer Place." He also made 2002’s "Kart Racer," which starred Randy Quaid and was released by MGM.
DiBella’s work speaks for itself, said Nora Brown, executive director of the Rochester/Finger Lakes Film & Video Office.
"I am in love with Nick DiBella’s style," Brown said. "I always have been. He just has this incredible talent for putting a story on film."
She predicted widespread acclaim for "King’s Faith," but noted that everyone has different measures of success.
"If you write a film, and produce a film and edit and complete a film, you are a success," Brown said. "It would be nice if millions of people would see this film, but success is getting your project in the can."
She said the Rochester/Finger Lakes Film & Video Office assisted in many ways with production of "King’s Faith," including helping to secure locations for filming and arrange for film permits as well as preparations to shoot a fiery car wreck at a local park.
When it opens April 26, "King’s Faith" will be shown locally at Regal Henrietta Stadium 18 and Cinemark Tinseltown USA in Gates. It also will be shown in Buffalo, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Huntsville, Ala. Additional locations may be added as more people demand the film through the website www.demandkingsfaith.com.
"We’re going to start out small and let demand for the film drive it," DiBella explained.
He said he and the film’s investors decided to try a grassroots system of demanding the movie instead of a wide theatrical release to minimize the investors’ financial risk. He said the movie’s investors hope to make other faith-based films in the future.
"We can impact lives with these films, but you are not going to make them very long if you are always in debt," DiBella remarked.
"Kings Faith" will be distributed nationwide on DVD through Provident Films, which handled the release of the acclaimed faith films "October Baby" and "Fireproof." The movie will be available through movie rental outlets, national retailers, Christian bookstores and through television.
Whether on a big screen or a small one, Brown said she hopes everyone has a chance to see the film.
"It makes you look inside yourself," said Brown, who saw the movie during its recent premiere at the George Eastman House’s Dryden Theatre.
In addition to making audiences look inside themselves, the film also showcases some of Rochester’s highlights, such as its scenic parks and lakeshore, and some of its rundown neighborhoods. When it was filmed locally in July 2011, filmmakers went to various locations, including DiBella’s alma mater, the former Cardinal Mooney High School, which is now the Greece Central School District’s Apollo Middle School.
"It was so cool to go back in there," DiBella said.
He said many members of the community signed on to help make the film, including financial and volunteer support from members of Hope Lutheran Church in Greece. The Rev. Kirk Dueker of Hope Lutheran Church and Hope member James Pavone, a producer on the film, helped him hone the film’s faith message and penned a Bible study based on the film that is available through the film’s website.
"So many wonderful people who are powerful in their faith jumped on the project," DiBella said.