Writer/Producer Cecil Stokes, whose first job was working at McDonald’s on Keith Street, said he is excited to have his first major motion picture, already receiving critical acclaim, playing to an audience of people who share his values.
The inspiring story of a college freshman whose world is rocked when she learns she is the adopted survivor of an attempted abortion is as timely today as ever, according to Stokes, who executive produced and/or produced more than 1,500 television shows for A&E, Court TV, ESPN, Food Network, HGTV, History Channel, Turner South and many others.
Stokes, who founded Tentmakers Entertainment in 1999, said, “I feel very blessed to have been able to tell this story. It is a beautiful story that has not been told before. What an honor. And I was also blessed to work with the talented cast and crew.
“They became dear friends to me who are still a major part of my life now. But the most important part of this film is that we are truly changing lives. We have had 75 pre-screenings across the country to get the word out about the film.
“After every show, someone called us or wrote us or came up to us after the show telling us that their lives were changed because of ‘October Baby.’ One man told me that after seeing our film, his wife shared that she had an abortion before they met. He said that just three weeks after seeing the movie, she was a new woman. She no longer had to carry that burden or hide that secret from him.
“Another woman told me she had miscarried a child at 24 weeks, the exact time our character, Hannah, was born after she survived the failed abortion. That woman cried and hugged me and told me for the first time in over 20 years, she could let that baby go and move on.
“Another young girl wrote us that she had visited an abortion clinic three times and after seeing our film, she decided to keep her unborn child. These are three stories of changed lives out of hundreds that we already know about before the movie even opens.”
Stokes confessed he feels overwhelmed to have been used to help all these people, adding, “Regardless of how the film does financially, or what projects I make in the future, God is using my film to save and heal lives. I am so thankful.”
Stokes has also won an Emmy for his work on the show “Blue Ribbon,” and was honored at the New York Film Festival and Cable Ace Awards, for excellence in American cable TV programming.
His latest film project about a young college student named Hannah handling the revelation of discovering she was adopted after a failed abortion attempt is just the beginning of a multilayered motion picture rich with scenes of excitement and adventure.
“The main element we did not anticipate until script writing was how we would complete the girl’s journey,” Stokes said. “Would she find her birth mother? Would they reconcile? What would happen when they met? I could not be happier with our decision.
“They do get a chance to meet and there is closure for both of them, but not what you might expect. When I watch the film now, I am thrilled that we portrayed the birth mother the way we did.”
The film stars Rachel Hendrix, Jason Burkey, Jasmine Guy and John Schneider. According to Stokes, the birth of “October Baby,” was a minor miracle in itself.
“A couple of years ago, the director of the film and I were sitting in his office after we shot the pilot for a TV show,” Stokes recalled. “We knew the show would not get picked up because on our last day of shooting, the network told us they were out of money.
“He and I sat down with the question: What story should we tell with these exact same actors (Hendrix, Burkey, Colleen Trusler, Austin Johnson and Alexander Nifong). These actors had such an impact on us while shooting that pilot that we wanted to work with them again, and soon.
“Jon Erwin, co-director, said ‘I’ve always wanted to do a movie called October Baby.’ I said, ‘Great, what is it about?’ He replied, ‘I have no idea. I just like the name.’”
Within the next few hours the two had decided to make a film about a young woman who survived an abortion attempt. That was June of 2009.
“The script was finished and the money we needed was raised by early 2010, and we shot ‘October Baby’ in August and September of that year,” Stokes said.
“Editing and music were completed one full year later, in September of 2011, and the film is opening nationwide March 23 — almost three years from our first conversation about the movie.”
Advanced screenings have been met with critical acclaim and enthusiastic crowds for a story and cinematic achievement whose time has arrived.
As tension grows between Hannah (Hendrix) and her parents in ‘October Baby,’ another level of conflict arises as to how to fill in the gaps of Hannah’s life. Bewildered, angered, and confused, Hannah turns for support to Jason, her oldest friend.
Encouraged by his adventurous spirit, she joins his group of friends on a spring break road trip, embarking on a journey to discover her hidden past only to find something more important for her unknown future.
In the midst of her incredible journey, Hannah learns the most important lesson about life — a lesson Stokes said is his passion to share with Cleveland and the rest of the world.
“I think God began to inspire me to tell this story when I was in high school,” he admits. “Any time our speech class debated, I always chose the topic of abortion. From the very beginning of my adulthood the pro-life movement has mattered to me.
“So many women who have had abortions feel condemned and carry that secret for their entire lives. We wanted to not only tell a story that could help save lives but a story that could also help people heal who have gone through with an abortion.
“I hope this film will open the eyes of people considering an abortion, but I also equally pray that women who have experienced an abortion will be healed.”
The producers of “October Baby” have assigned 10 percent of the profits of the movie to the Every Life is Beautiful Fund, which will distribute funds to frontline organizations helping women facing crisis pregnancies, life-affirming adoption agencies and those caring for orphans.
“We wanted to give part of the proceeds to these organizations not only because they are supporting our film, but because it is the right thing to do,” Stokes said.
“A rising tide lifts all boats. Many who are reading this article right now knew me when I lived in Birchwood and they invested in me. Now, through me, they are investing in this cause — this movie, and every life I touch. I am forever grateful and because of their generosity I must give back.”
When asked if he would encourage more writers and producers to address this issue in the film industry, Stokes said, “Our world desperately needs more films that tackle subjects like this, but I don’t know that most writers/producers are equipped to tell these stories.
“It’s not just the subject matter that is important. One must tell the story well and tell it fairly. I wouldn’t want someone to make a pro-life film that villainizes some women. It is a delicate balance in storytelling between getting your views across and telling the whole story.
“Good movies aren’t one-sided. Yet as a Christian, I must take a stand in what I believe and that must come across in my projects. I only want the right writers and producers to tell these stories.”
“October Baby” is rated PG-13 with a running time of 107 minutes. It was released by Samuel Goldwyn Films. For show times at the Premiere Theater in Cleveland, call 423-473-0041. For further information about “October Baby,” visit: www.octoberbabymovie.net.