Area youth produce, star in feature-length Catholic movie

By: By Tom Dermody

A new feature-length movie is set to make its big-screen premiere at Landmark Cinema in Peoria this Friday evening, Sept. 13. Among those in the sold-out theater will be the actors and production crew, many in formal attire as they walk down a red carpet.

“The Outlaws of Ravenhurst” is not a big budget Hollywood blockbuster.
Instead, it’s a big mission, Peoria-area Catholic family project with an all-youth cast (pictured above).

“I wanted to make this film because there is such a lack of films that are child appropriate, much less inspiring,” said Natasha Rupert, a 2013 graduate of Illinois Valley Central in Chillicothe who wrote the screenplay for the movie based on a book of the same name by the late Sister M. Imelda Wallace, SL. (See more excerpts from our interview with Natasha below.)

“Children need to be taught through the character and action of heroes, like the saints,” she said.

There are plenty of heroes, and a few tyrants, in this story set in 17th century Scotland, when Catholics caught practicing their faith were subject to punishment and even death. It follows the life of young Charles Gordon (portrayed by Johnny Berlinger), the son of the Earl of Ravenhurst, who was given up as a baby to the care of a family in Maryland so he could have religious freedom. A series of adventures begin 10 years later when two men, including a dastardly uncle, bring him back to Scotland and Gordon discovers the plight of Catholics and meets his real parents.

THREE YEARS TO PRODUCE
How much Natasha, who next month leaves for San Diego to study film production at John Paul the Great Catholic University, wanted to make “Outlaws” into a movie is evidenced by the time she devoted to it — three years. She served as director, a film editor, worked with set and costume design, and handled some of the camera work.

And she had a lot of help, including supportive parents David and Stefanie Rupert, who are producers under the title “Signum Crucis,” the Sign of the Cross. The Ruperts are dual members of St. Jude and Sacred Heart parishes in Peoria.

The decision to make a movie originated after Stefanie Rupert showed her four children the movie “St. Bernadette of Lourdes,” done by a professional director with an all-children cast.

“My siblings and I have always loved the performing arts and had put on a couple of our own plays, so we thought it was a wonderful idea to try to do a movie as well,” said Natasha. The Ruperts called their friends Bill and Patty Berlinger, who have three children, and the idea began to grow. Other area Catholic families became involved, including the Alahis, Broses, Dykes, Fadys, and Sandersons, contributing to a cast of 25 ranging in age at the time of filming from infancy to 16.

Using the Ruperts’ handheld HD video camera and borrowing a neighbor’s tripod, filming began two years ago at locations including old St. Patrick Church in Kickapoo, Somner Park, a horse ranch, and the historic Cornerstone Building near downtown Peoria. The Ruperts’ living room was transformed for inside scenes.

“When my parents visited family in Germany, they filmed a castle there for us to use,” said Natasha. “We also even built a log cabin in our backyard to use for our peasants.”

Many costumes were provided by family or self-made after “many trips to Goodwill and Salvation Army.”

FINISHING TOUCHES
While filming challenges included lack of proper sound equipment, tight scheduling — shots had to be finished before the child actors had to be back home — and a shortage of boys, “The Outlaws of Ravenhurst” has a surprisingly professional look thanks to finishing touches such as background music used with permission from internationally known Catholic composer Eric Genuis. There are also top-notch graphics, including rolling closing titles set to Genuis’ song “Here I Am.”

Other music utilized included a song by The Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, and “So I’ll Come,” also sung over credits by Francesca Dyke, who also portrays Mary Abel in the movie.

After Friday’s premiere, Natasha and her mother will talk about how the movie was made and thank the actors and supporting parents individually. At Catholic Post press time, they were considering adding a second showing the following night.

Natasha hopes to submit “The Outlaws of Ravenhurst” to a Catholic film festival next month. But the movie has already helped to pay back its $5,000 budget. Footage of the film helped Natasha get a scholarship to John Paul the Great Catholic University.

Editor’s note: A second public showing of the movie at Landmark Cinema has been added for 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14. A free will offering to help cover the cost of renting the cinema will be accepted as admission. Other persons interested in viewing or showing the film are invited to contact the Ruperts by email at rupert1006@comcast.net or by phone at (309) 243-9797 for more information.

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Meet director Natasha Rupert

The Catholic Post interviewed Natasha Rupert, 18, director of the new film “The Outlaws of Ravenhurst.” Here are some more of her thoughts about the making of the movie:

Why make this book into a movie?

“The Outlaws of Ravenhurst” was a book that my siblings and I had grown up with. Not many people have heard of it and we loved the story so much we felt it needed to be shared. The book was first published in 1923, which allows us to use the book as it is now in public domain.

What’s your favorite scene in the movie and why?

This is going to be very random but it is actually the “Pudding Scene.” We named it that because of my sister Antonia hearing “we’re putting this scene” in between two others. The entire scene was improvised by Antonia and Marie Berlinger and it was fun watching those two become their characters.

What do you like most about filmmaking, and why are you choosing it as your vocation?

For me, film is a mixture of lots of different forms of art that I enjoy. Drawing, costumes, music, computer effects, writing, all are forms of art. Going into film is being able to use all of my loves of art and to use them to influence the culture and the world. Today’s media has been lacking quality storytelling and that needs to change.

What would you like to do after you get your college degree?

I would love to be a part of an independent film production company and to make movies that appeal to modern youth, but give them hope and courage to express their faith.

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