“We’re not supermen …We don’t have any bizarre powers, and God is able to work with that. He is able to work with the ordinary. He delights to work with the ordinary.”
All Saints took six years to reach the Big Screen and is based on the inspirational true story of salesman-turned-pastor Michael Spurlock, the tiny church he was ordered to shut down, and a group of refugees from Southeast Asia who, together, risk everything to plant seeds for a future that might just save them all.
After reading in USA TODAY about Reverend Michael Spurlock and All Saints church’s heroic efforts to help Karen refugees relocated to Tennessee, Director Steve Gomer believed the inspiring true story needed to be made into a
All Saints is based on the inspiring true story of salesman-turned-pastor Michael Spurlock (John Corbett), the tiny church he was ordered to shut down, and a group of refugees from Southeast Asia. Together, they risked everything to plant seeds for a future that might just save them all.
After trading in his corporate sales career to become a pastor, Michael’s first assignment is All Saints, a quaint country church with a dozen members. It comes with a catch: he has to close the church doors for good and sell the prime piece of land on which it sits. While developers eagerly eye the property and the congregation mourns the inevitable, Michael and his family look forward to moving on to an established church where they can put down roots.
But when the church hesitantly begins welcoming Karen (kuh-REN) refugees from Burma— former farmers striving for a fresh start in America—Michael feels called to an improbable new mission. Toiling alongside the Karen people, the congregation attempts to turn their fertile land into a working farm to pay the church’s bills and feed its newest people.
Jeopardizing his family’s future by ignoring his superiors, Michael must choose between completing what he was assigned to do—close the church and sell the property—or listening to a still, small voice challenging the people of All Saints to risk it all and provide much-needed hope to their new community.
Director Steve Gomer enlisted the help of writer Steve Armour to hammer out the screenplay and the two went through 15 versions of the script before they felt it was right.
Steve Gomer won the prestigious Filmmakers Trophy at the 1993 Sundance Festival for his singular directorial style and original production of Fly by Night, one of the first films to deal with the burgeoning rap world. Gomer’s debut as a feature director was Sweet Lorraine. An evocative comedy set in a fading Catskills summer resort, it won the Sakura Prize at the Tokyo Film Festival. He also wrote, produced and directed the documentary film, Joe Chaikin, Going On, about the groundbreaking avant-garde theatrical director. In addition, Gomer directed Sunset Park for Jersey Films and Columbia Pictures. His dramatic television work includes numerous episodes of Blue Bloods, The Unit, Ally McBeal, Joan of Arcadia, The Guardian, Huff and Private Practice. For five years, Gomer was a visiting instructor teaching acting and directing at Princeton University. He has directed plays at The Circle Repertory Theater, The Vineyard Theater, Manhattan Theater Club, and
Joseph Papp’s Public Theater.
Armour recalls, “It was a very inspiring story for me, and one that I felt a real connection to. My father in his younger days was a Southern Baptist minister, so I had grown up in the church. I have also traveled a lot and have spent a lot of time in Asia, so I felt kind of a connection to the refugee population at All Saints. This felt like a natural fit to me.”
Gomer and Armour spent a great deal of time in Tennessee with the community at All Saints, and in New York with Michael Spurlock, where he now serves as pastor at St. Thomas Church in Manhattan.
“My responsibility as a screenwriter is to try to find a way to boil down all of the disparate things that happened in real life and make it into a compelling narrative that’s going to touch people,” says Armour.
Born and raised in the Old South, Steve Armour built a successful career as a professional musician in New York City. He recorded and toured with jazz and pop icons before venturing west to attend USC Film School, where he was the first screenwriter awarded the program’s Hudson Scholarship. He went on to win an Annenberg Fellowship in Screenwriting.
Steve has written for literary journals like Another Chicago Magazine, Pif, and Rivendell, national magazines like Down Beat, and he won a full scholarship to the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.
Steve’s screenplay for ALL SAINTS, was a finalist for the Movieguide Kairos Prize in 2016 for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays.
Currently, Steve is adapting the true stories of a high stakes submarine chase during the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as a historical epic about the missionary and naturalist we know as Johnny Appleseed.
Gomer notes, “We did a lot of research. We both came out for a number of trips to just be with the Karen, and I would follow Ye Win for a week at a time. I’d stay for a few weeks with Michael in New York, and Michael and I became very close. I always do research, but for this picture, I felt like I needed to really get to know these people.”
Then, two years ago, Gomer and his wife, Jane, made a move from Los Angeles to Tennessee.
“I just said, ‘Look, you know, if we’re going to put this picture together we need to be there and really spend time.’ So that’s what we did. I’ve been attending church, going and helping in whatever way I can; helping kids with their papers, volunteering, driving the Karen to doctor’s appointments, stuff like that. I feel like I really am part of that community,” says Gomer.
Head of AFFIRM Films, Rich Peluso says, “We’ve been working with Steve Gomer and Steve Armour for five years to bring this story to the big screen. There were many times we thought we’d never get all the pieces to work together, but the story and underlying themes are too important. Through hard work, prayer and an amazing creative team we pulled it off and are thrilled that people around the world will get to experience the inspirational true story of All Saints.”
Michael Spurlock says, “To tell this story you have to have a welcoming spirit. And I am amazed that Steve [Gomer] has been able to pull together a cast and a crew that seems to embody the spirit of [All Saints]. Steve told me himself, it’s not always like this. It just reinforces the fact to me that God sent the right people to tell the story, and that includes the cast, too. He sent the right actors. Thanks be to God.”
A Story Of Faith
The faith message in the film is simple, clear, and biblical: do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. For the faith-based community, the inspiring work of Michael and Aimée Spurlock, Ye Win and the All Saints church will serve as an example of real faith in action.
Says screenwriter Steve Armour says, “Jesus was not vague on this issue. This isn’t one of those where you have to read between the lines. He says, when you’ve done this to the least of these you’ve done it to me. So it’s pretty clear what our obligations are. And I think Michael Spurlock felt that.”
President of Provident Films Ben Howard, says, “Michael’s story is a great example of responding to what God puts right in front of you. The Karen people knocked on the door. It would have been very easy to say sorry we are too busy today, we’re closing a church and we won’t be able to help you. But he reached out, and he loved them, and look what it led to. It’s an incredible, miraculous story.”
Nelson Lee says, “In [ALL SAINTS] faith is not just about religion. It’s about faith in yourself, faith in your community, and faith in your loved ones to be there for you, to struggle for you, to fight for you.”
A Story About Refugees And The Church
The way All Saints church welcomed the Karen refugees resonated with the cast and crew of the film, and many hope the movie will raise awareness of the needs of the poor and marginalized in our communities.
The Karen people are an ethnic minority group who originate from the southeastern part of Burma.The Karen are subsistence farmers which is a type of farmer who grows only enough crops for themselves and their families to survive – their survival in their home country is based on their ability to farm; and they live in villages comprised of bamboo huts with thatched roofs. Like many other minority groups within the Burmese population, the Karen are largely a Christian people, in a Buddhist majority country; and they have been persecuted for decades in what analysts call “the longest running civil war in the world,” with estimates of more than seven million people displaced from their home country. A large number of Karen have been forced to shelter in refugee camps established 30 years ago on the Thailand-Burma border.
The many decades of war between the Karen and Burmese government have resulted in more than 160,000 Karen refugees living in camps on the Thai border, with scarce resources. Thousands upon thousands of Burmese refugees have legally entered the United States in recent years, settling in states across the country. With no grasp of English and very few translators, the adjustments have been difficult.
A group of approximately 70 Karen refugees lives in Smyrna, Tennessee and attends All Saints Episcopal Church.
Peluso says, “As we do on any AFFIRM Films project, we want that hour-and-a-half or two hours invested in watching our story to change hearts, to change minds and hopefully that leads to changing lives. [For All Saints] the hope is that people will experience this and develop, if they don’t already have it, awareness and a heart for those that are seeking refuge from persecution, from pain… and hopefully will lay a foundation for people who come up with ideas and motivation to make a difference for these refugees that are all around us.”
Corbett says, “The themes of this film are community, compassion, caring for others, family. In today’s society, we can’t ignore the needs of others who are different than us.”
GregAlan Williams, who plays Bishop Thompson, says, “[All Saints] is a story about how we are more similar than we are different. It’s a great American story. It’s the kind of story that has repeated itself thousands of times in this country. Dr. King told us that we are tied to the single garment of destiny and whatever affects one directly, affects all of us indirectly, and that’s what this story is about. It’s about that single garment of destiny. That one hungry child,
he’s my hungry child, even if it’s not my child. One refugee. A refugee is my brother, my sister.”
Williams continues, “I think the themes in the film are certainly brotherhood, and certainly compassion and that any man’s adversity is my adversity. I think that in our country right now that’s what we need.”
Buono says, “We are a community and we need each other, and to have faith in each other, and to work together. And I think being of service to each other and taking care of one another is really exemplifying what it’s like to be a person of faith.”
Director of Photography Eduardo Mayan is an immigrant from Central America and reflects on how the story of All Saints ties into his own personal journey. “I started here as a refugee. I had to renew my work permit every 18 months until I was able to get enough filmmaking credits that I was able to apply for residence, for American residence. I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing if this country didn’t open its doors to me because of the circumstances of what my country was going through at the time.”
Angela Fox, who portrays “Mary-O,” says, “In our busy and fast-paced society we’ve lost sight of the fact that we are all human beings, and we all have families, and we all have tragedies and we all have joys and we are far more alike than we are different. This story shows that we will get through this world if we have compassion, and if we care for other human beings as if they were ourselves, treating others as we would like to be treated.”
Spurlock adds, “You don’t get to choose who God sends to your door. You do get to choose how you treat them when they show up. There is judgment. That’s what we will be judged on. Not the ‘who’ but ‘how’ we receive them. And I think we could be judged as a nation on how we respond to people that the Lord may be sending our way.”