Church gets more drama than it bargained for in film
First time actress Persis Karen plays Annika in the movie 'Not Today.'
April 13th, 2013
10:00 PM ET

Church gets more drama than it bargained for in film

By Alan Duke, CNN

Los Angeles (CNN) - When a film's credits list "prayer coordinator" before the hair/makeup and wardrobe teams, you might guess it is a faith-based production.

"Not Today," which premieres on 50 screens in 20 U.S. cities this weekend, was not funded by Hollywood investors, but with $1.6 million from the collection plate at Friends Church in Yorba Linda, California.

Still, the church couldn't avoid the controversies that seem routine in Hollywood productions — including a lawsuit over pay.

The idea for the film began during a trip to India where the church began building schools for the Dalit class - considered the lowest in India's caste system - in 2002. It's a project that fits Friends Church's Quaker tradition, said Creative Arts Pastor Brent Martz. President Richard Nixon's parents worshiped at the church, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year.

"Our hearts were totally ripped open for the Dalit people," Martz said. Social rules and poverty make their children vulnerable to human-trafficking in labor and sex.

Instead of a typical church fundraiser - perhaps a bake sale - Friends Church's leadership proposed a feature film shot on location on two sides of the globe and with a powerful message about the $32 billion world slave trade. Film profits will go toward the $20 million needed to build 200 schools for Dalit children.

Why a church would make a movie

"Media is the language of our culture, so what better way to communicate a story of a huge global tragedy like human trafficking than with a film," Martz said. "What better way to motivate a church audience that can sometimes be sheltered and not want to walk into situations or topics like human trafficking but with a story, a story that they can hear, that they would understand, that would compel them to get involved."

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The story is also about the power of faith and prayer in changing lives. More than coincidentally, making the movie changed the lives of those involved.

The cast includes veteran Hollywood actors John Schneider (TV's "Dukes of Hazard"), Cody Longo (Nickelodeon's "Hollywood Heights") and Cassie Scerbo (ABC Family's "Make It or Break It").

The 7-year-old sex slave

But the most memorable performance comes from Persis Karen, who played Annika, a 7-year-old girl sold into slavery in Hyderabad, India.

Like her character, Persis is in the Dalit class. But unlike Annika, she attends one of the 40 Friends Church schools. Until she was chosen for the role, Persis had never seen a movie or left her village, Martz said. "She grew from day to day during the shoot."

Persis, whose big brown eyes proved to be a powerful cinematic force, won the award for best breakout performance by an actress at the Monaco Charity Film Festival in 2012. She now aspires to be an actress.

Longo called her "my little angel."

Annika's story is not unusual. She and her father live on the streets of Hyderabad trying to survive by entertaining tourists with a ragged puppet and her songs. Her survival seems uncertain when they cross paths with Cade Welles, the 20-year-old played by Longo. He drives an orange Lamborghini back in Southern California but travels with friends to party in India.


But Welles' partying is interrupted by the reality of the Dalits' suffering and the horrors of the slave trade.

"Get a job, feed your own kid," Welles tells Annika's father when he asked for help for the starving child.

CNN Belief: The new Christian abolition movement

But back home, Welles' mother is praying "that God would get ahold of him and shake him up" during his trip. The power of her prayer is seen as Welles' eyes eventually open to Annika's suffering. He begins praying that he can find the child again so he can help her. He finds the father, only to learn he just sold his daughter.

"What kind of man buys a child," he said. "What kind of father sells his daughter?"

Her father said he had no other choice, and he believed Annika was on her way to work in a rich household, not a brothel in Mumbai.

When he calls home to his girlfriend, played by Cassie Scerbo, she tells him "You have to trust in God. Sometimes we have to be broken to be useful."

The rest of the film is a frantic search through the slums of several cities for Annika, punctuated by intense prayers and frustration.

A real change for the actors

John Schneider plays Welles' stepfather who is there to provide the crucial advice and help needed at the end. "I do believe that God will make a better way," he said.

"What makes this film so special is there's so much truth in it," Longo said. "The fact that we shot in the actual slums and actual brothels that had been raided before created this truth."

Cinematographer Abe Martinez and Director Jon Van Dyke review the footage in Hyderabad, India.

The lack of millions of dollars to build soundstage sets forced the production into the streets of India's slums for 21 days of shooting but guaranteed authenticity.

It also meant that Longo experienced the same thing his character did - traveling to India and being shocked by its reality.

"It changed my life," he said. "It took me from the bubble we live in. We become accustomed to this little bubble and nobody realizes until we get the opportunity to see what is going on elsewhere in the world."

The movie was shot in August and September of 2010, when "I was struggling at that point in my life a little bit with my faith and which direction to go," Longo said. "I feel like God placed this in my life at the perfect time, and he's also releasing it at an incredible time and at the perfect place.”

A split and a lawsuit

As the movie opened this weekend a lawsuit about the production and compensation was making its way through the courts. The film's director, Jon Van Dyke, filed a federal lawsuit alleging fraud by church leaders who he claims cheated him out of his pay.

In his lawsuit Van Dyke tells of internal bickering, cheating and outright fraud.

Director Jon Van Dyke and Persis Karen review steady cam footage – Mumbai, India.

Van Dyke was director of the Friends Church media department when he wrote the screenplay, but his boss, Creative Arts Pastor Brent Martz (you met him earlier in this story) threatened to fire him if he didn't give him 50% co-writer credit, the lawsuit said. "He had not made any copyrightable (or other substantive) contributions to the screenplay," it said.

The suit also contends Van Dyke has never been paid for directing the movie, a job he did while still the church's media director. He spent 10 weeks in India where most of the movie was shot on location. The suit demands either overtime pay or a share of the film's profits.

The profits are intended to fund hundreds of schools for the Dalit caste in India, according to Martz. Van Dyke's lawsuit claims the budget was "significantly inflated to include numerous illegitimate and improper expenses" in an effort to dilute profits.

When Van Dyke raised these concerns last August, "he was unceremoniously terminated," the suit said.

An attorney for the church responded to the suit in a statement to CNN.

"While we understand that members of the church body will have disagreements, I can say that we are sad that Jon chose to file a lawsuit," Friends' lawyer John Cone said.

"Friends Church offered Jon both mediation and binding arbitration to address his concerns. Jon and the church also signed an agreement in which they consented to resolve any disputes between them through binding arbitration. Nevertheless, we have faith in the judicial process. And if that is where this matter is resolved then we are confident that the court will make a fair and wise decision,” the statement said.

End Result

There is no doubt despite the lawsuit, the actors and crew - including Van Dyke and Martz - put a lot of hard work into the passion project.

As a film, it wanders into familiar territory other faith-based films find themselves in. Critics will likely call the film “preachy.”

And that is because it is. And that in many ways is the point.

The film carries a powerful message about the global slave trade and has a call to action for viewers to help fight it. The cast, script and production style should appeal to young adults looking for direction in their lives.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories,

While the suit carries on and viewers settle in for a healthy dose of “activismtainment” the church will be in prayer. That’s where the film's prayer coordinator comes in.

"For us at the church, having people praying from the very beginning of this project and even up to today and this opening weekend has been a huge part of it," Martz said. "We believe that God led us into making this film, and he's ultimately responsible for it, and so every bit of this journey has been covered through this prayer team, and they've been so faithful to pray for all us during the writing and during the production and during the post-production and now during the marketing and PR."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: California • Christianity • Church • Courts • Movies • United States

soundoff (391 Responses)
  1. Shu-Shi

    When your heart is hardened so much to look beyond the suffering of innocent little children as if they were a product of their own making, you have lost the basic decency of calling yourself human.

    April 20, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • Shu-Shi

      Friends church shines through the darkness in bringing light in the lives of these precious little souls, worthy of all honor and dignity. I can see future doctors, academicians and bright lives for these little angels, the next generation being reared for its full potential. God bless all those that fight to abolish slavery.

      April 20, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Religious indoctrination and the perpetuation of baseless myths is a form of slavery too.

      April 20, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • Science

      Shu-Shi....................facts work best for teaching children !

      Evolution wins hands down ..........time for god(s) to get the HELL out of the way................so humanity can evolve !

      Dinosaur Egg Study Supports Evolutionary Link Between Birds and Dinosaurs: How Troodon Likely Hatched Its Young


      April 21, 2013 at 6:53 am |
  2. lethia petric

    If you think Alfred`s story is super..., 1 weak-ago my aunts step daughter also earnt $7229 putting in a thirteen hour week an their house and their buddy's step-aunt`s neighbour did this for 8-months and broght in more than $7229 part time at their labtop. follow the guidelines at this site,........ ZOO80. ℂom

    April 17, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
  3. kevobx

    *Isaiah 48:1 Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness. *John 4:23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: *Revelation 1:3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. *1st Peter 4:7 But the end of all things is at hand:

    April 17, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • More love from the bible

      “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. 18 No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; 19 no man with a crippled foot or hand, 20 or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles
      - Leviticus 21:17-20

      April 18, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
  4. Alias

    This is an example of the problem I have with the self-righteous christians.
    What if you are wrong, and these people were reincarnated to live this life, because they deserve it?
    Just consider that you are interfering with another God's will. How is that going to work out for you on judgment day?

    Okay, seriously, I'm against child abuse and s.e.x slaves too, but why can't you try to help without giving your mythology credit for being better than theirs?

    April 17, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • counter

      Basically you need to decide what is truth or not. To critique what they did is beyond pale. They did something good but you don't like it because it highlights Christians, Christ, and Christianity. There is no pleasing some people.

      April 18, 2013 at 12:42 am |
  5. kevobx

    When death comes to the door what will the proud people say then? Why are these satanists lukewarm believers even speaking about the most high God. Grace and truth is Christ. The rich many friends and it's called do me a favor, because they rejected grace for the pride of life (1st John 2:16)

    April 16, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Science

      Because kevobox there is no fairy in the sky .......... and you are in denial or you can not read ?

      Learning is fun with facts.......................... and facts work when teaching children.

      Atheist Prof. Peter Higgs: Stop calling Higgs boson the ‘God particle’

      Professor Peter Higgs said recently that there is no God and so people should stop referring to the theoretical partial that
      bears his name as the “God particle.”


      April 17, 2013 at 5:42 am |
    • counter

      Science cannot save mankind . It can help us while we are on this earth, but there is more than this life. This is what you fail to realize.

      April 18, 2013 at 12:43 am |
    • More of gods love

      Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'"
      1 Sam 15:3

      April 18, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
  6. kevobx

    Joseph's children are the Cubans and the Puerto Ricans. America separated then afar off why? (Genesis 41:51-52)

    April 16, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • .

      Because you're a bat-shit crazy troll, that's why. Play target practice with your tonsils already.

      April 17, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
  7. kevobx

    Warning, grace and truth is exposing the entire world. Christ never walked nor taught in any earthly church! (2nd Corintihians 5:1) He preached in synagogues and temples only. Christians claim to be saved by the cross? (Acts 10:39) What happened to the free gift of God his grace. Even Paul spoke of the grace of God and not the cross for his salvation (1st Corinthians 15:10) All religions are satanic from Christianity to Islam to Hindu and whatsoever else. They are all fighting for the children of the kingdom of Satan (Matthew 8:12) Athesists do not believe in the God of Jacob: and the Satanists worship the world and it's things thereof. They believe in facts and honesty, when the truth is what sets you free. Do you love your devices phones / computers, they are constantly being updated with lies. Wiki leaks is the devil in hiding and his followers are dumb because who is making all that money off Satan's backside. Wiki leaks founder is banned from America! And his internet site is still enterprising, why? *Isaiah 19:9*

    April 16, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
  8. kevobx

    Christ never walked nor taught in any earthly church! (2nd Corintihians 5:1) He preached in synagogues and temples only. Christians claim to be saved by the cross? (Acts 10:39) What happened to the free gift of God his grace. Even Paul spoke of the grace of God and not the cross for his salvation (1st Corinthians 15:10) All religions are satanic from Christianity to Islam to Hindu and whatsoever else. They are all fighting for the children of the kingdom of Satan (Matthew 8:12) Athesists do not believe in the God of Jacob: and the Satanists worship the world and it's things thereof. They believe in facts and honesty, when the truth is what sets you free. Do you love your devices phones / computers, they are constantly being updated with lies. Wiki leaks is the devil in hiding and his followers are dumb because who is making all that money off Satan's backside. Wiki leaks founder is banned from America! And his internet site is still enterprising, why? *Isaiah 19:9*

    April 16, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
  9. lionlylamb

    The pliable perplexities of societal freedoms are what unites and also divides the feeble revelries around vocalized constabularies all cloistering together as seeded cultural demarcations upon verbalized sedimentary soundings retrograding around the stamina of engendered philosophies incrementally natured toward the fundaments of prudence's variable hate/love rationings.

    April 16, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
    • .

      Oh look the belief blog pseudo intellect is here again. Don't bother reading folks, just laugh and move on.

      April 17, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  10. Reasonably

    Money talks.

    April 16, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  11. Thought Purification

    Atheist, me? wrote: "I think the handle stealing troll is having more success as a hindu-phobic muslim terrorist!"

    Friend, first he is not a troll; he is real in what he writes. His name is Mohammad A. Dar; he is a Pakistani living in America (he is close to fall in the category of "ticking Time Bomb"). I have seen his hateful post on Pakistani news website called The Nation, where he gets hero's welcome. He is a real hateful person. We have reported his name "Mohammad A. Dar" to the FBI tip lines, and we encourage all people to do so, REPORT THIS SOB BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.

    April 16, 2013 at 9:58 am |

    Let us rule or we will randomly explode again.

    April 16, 2013 at 1:57 am |
    • meifumado

      Daughter of a dog Muhammad prophet of islam Hermaphrodite likes little boys and sucks the sausage of Hanuman the great monkey god ism seculiar hindu blah blah.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  13. Douglas

    Many boys vicitmized by westerners on "pleasure vacations" require emergency surgery to repair
    torn and damaged @nuses and rectums.

    Let these men burn and rot in h-e-l-l!

    April 16, 2013 at 1:10 am |
    • Meatwad

      I can see the future. Don't drink the chocolate milk!

      April 16, 2013 at 1:20 am |
    • Science

      Doogie talking out his ass again ?

      April 16, 2013 at 6:50 am |
    • Science

      yea doogie tell that to the RCC

      April 16, 2013 at 6:51 am |
    • Reasonably

      Ask Quentin Tarantino to help...

      April 16, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Akira

      And many girls are, too, Douglas. A fact you gloss over repeatedly, and oddly enough, the topic of this article.
      And guess what, Douglas, they have twice as many orifices to defile, and twice the damage.
      Many can never bear children. How many boys are damaged in that particle way?
      Karl below is right. Just say stop *child* rape.
      Gender isn't the point, unless, of course, it's you talking.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  14. Douglas

    Stop gay coitus with children NOW!

    April 16, 2013 at 1:07 am |
    • Kari

      How about just say stop coitus with children? You have discomfort with gay so your message is senseless.

      April 16, 2013 at 10:06 am |
    • .

      This just shows how ridiculous this poster is that they don't know the difference between a pedophile and a homosexual. What an idiot.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • Akira

      He's been told many times, dot.
      He prefers to wallow in his own bigoted ignorance.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  15. Phil

    Friends church, thank you for the film, thank you for caring about these precious little children. We are grateful.

    April 15, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
    • Meatwad

      Go back inside, we don't want any.

      April 15, 2013 at 8:21 pm |

      Church of Who? hindu Lucifer, filthy secular, self centered, making human, dependent on truth absolute to be hindu sanatans, crook man gods.

      April 15, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
    • STFU


      April 15, 2013 at 10:39 pm |

      Golden Hind, lovely hind. You rub my hind and I'll rub your hind. Smooth lovely Islamic hinds golden and oiled. 360 degrees of hind. Truth Absolute.

      April 15, 2013 at 10:50 pm |

      Ask you hindu sanatan filthy goon of help, hindu chicken queen by faith.

      April 15, 2013 at 11:00 pm |

      Hindu, you oil my hind and I oil your hind. We talk 360 degrees of hindu Truth Absolute. Deal !!

      April 15, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
    • aachman

      yes thanks

      for religious travel pls visit http://www.aachman.com

      April 16, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

      John 14:6


      April 16, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  16. Islam: the religion that goes BANG ! ! !

    Once again, religion brings peace and morality and goodness to the world.

    April 15, 2013 at 6:34 pm |

      hindu gentile ism, filthy slavery of another man, just like them.

      April 15, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
  17. STFU


    April 15, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • STFU


      April 15, 2013 at 7:15 pm |

      hindrance to truth absolute, is of hindu secular ism, filthy self center ism, foundation of hinduism terrorism, every hindu terrorist live by hiduism, racism to be a hindu, terrorist by faith. live with it hindus, terrorist, hindu atheism, filthy self center ism, Lucifer-ism is their way of life. borne to be hindu, terrorist in defiance of truth absolute GOD.

      April 15, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • STFU


      April 15, 2013 at 10:34 pm |

      Observation of a hindu mentally blind, just like his hindu stupid god monkey, secular.

      April 15, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
  18. STFU


    April 15, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  19. CBS

    The utter callousness displayed to human suffering is just mind boggling, while these very same specimens are enjoying their freedom and have the luxury of educating their children they seem to lack compassion for these hapless kids that are held in bondage. If you or your child was forced into sexual slavery would you not want to be freed? If you have not helped free any of these children then ask yourself what right you have to enjoy your freedom.

    April 15, 2013 at 5:32 pm |

      They are not human, may look like human, but claim to be children of hindu Monkeys, ignorant secular s by faith. They live and die by hinduism, racism, borrowed from hindu animals, ignorant secular s by nature.

      April 15, 2013 at 6:44 pm |


    April 15, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • STFU


      April 15, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • Atheist, me?

      I think the handle stealing troll is having more success as a hindu-phobic muslim terrorist!

      April 16, 2013 at 8:34 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.