Golden native’s movie hits theaters nationwide

Zachary Christian and Hannah Beth’s film, “Rising Free,” is the couple’s first faith-based movie and its arrival in 40 theaters around the country is no small miracle for an independent film.

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It is a tale of a young woman’s struggle through prejudice, aided by the grace of a pioneer family, and of finding hope against the odds.

Theirs is a tale of following God’s direction to sacrifice careers and financial comfort to script a movie that has found its way into theaters nationwide, against the odds.

“Rising Free,” a full-length feature written by Golden native Hannah Beth and filmed by her husband, Zachary Christian, arrives in 40 theaters across the nation on Friday. It is a faith-based film that required a significant dose of faith to create.

“It was a completely God-inspired journey, from the very start,” Hannah Beth said from the couple’s home in Boise, Id. “My husband had been working in the commercial world for about 15 years. He was really gifted in that area, but he felt God leading him into feature films. He came home from work one day and said, ‘It’s time.’ We weren’t prepared for that financially, but I said if that’s what God told you to do then by all means let’s do it.”

The couple stepped out in faith four years ago and began working on their first film, but the result is not what viewers will see on screens.

“God revealed to him (Zachary) a story. We got it written, had actors in mind. We then went to get funding and every single door we went to was shut,” Hannah Beth said.

The filming of one of the scenes from “Rising Free.” Photo courtesy of Hannah Beth Johanesson

Not fully understanding this, one day Zachary felt God asking him if he was ready to give it all back to Him, to give up the movie idea and everything. So Zachary did. It was then he said God “downloaded” the new story idea for “Rising Free” into him, and the storyline started coming together. 

According to the movie’s website, www.risingfreemovie.com, “Amidst the rugged Oregon territory, Rising Free is a visual masterpiece that showcases the harrowing journey of a young woman running from the throes of prejudice. Taken in by a gracious pioneer family, she learns to stand in newfound hope but is soon tested by unforeseen tragedies. In a vast and unforgiving wilderness, she must embrace this foreign hope within or surrender to shadows of darkness that loom over her.”

Hannah Beth wrote the script, though, she says, she really didn’t.

“It isn’t based on a true story,” she said. “We wanted to keep it as true to period as possible. It was all revealed to Zachary by God. He spent several months in prayer and devotion. He studied pastors from the 1700s, and that’s where he gathered a lot of the inspiration for the story. Then he had these jumbled notes and handed them off to me and said I was going to write the script. I laughed and said I don’t know how to write a screenplay at all. He said God had me as the writer. How do you argue with that?”

Hannah Beth went to work in her spare time after work and on weekends writing the script. Once it was ready, this one apparently had God’s greenlight.

“One miracle after another happened,” Hannah Beth said. “People came out of the woodwork to give to make it happen. It was people who wouldn’t have had the money, but God gave to them to use them to help make the movie.”

Ready to roll, the couple found themselves still needing the final funding. Once again, God provided.

“We were ready, but we still didn’t have the funds (to produce the film). We had a full team, and then three days before we left (for the first filming) a chunk of money came in to make it happen,” she said.

Of the actors and actresses on the film, only one had previous acting experience, but Hannah Beth said the finished product, which has already received some awards, has surprised many people with its quality.

“We had the bare minimum people, bare minimum money. My husband is self-taught. I don’t have a degree in writing. This movie shouldn’t have happened.

The filming of one of the scenes from “Rising Free.” Photo courtesy of Hannah Beth Johanesson

“There are a few things I don’t remember writing,” Hannah Beth said. “There were some people who said a part of the script was so moving, how did I do this? I said I don’t know.”

Filming took place in several locations around Oregon, where the story is based. 

“We were out on set 30 days in a row,” she said. “There were times it didn’t feel like a movie set. There were pastors on the set who said they had never felt God’s presence like that. All of the emotion seen in the movie is 100 percent real. To see the words come to life is a miracle. Then to see it come to life on the screen is just exciting.”

The film is faith-based, but Hannah Beth and Zachary were led to produce a story and movie that would have wide appeal and reach a mass audience with a gentler approach to sharing the story of God’s love.

“A lot of faith-based movies don’t have the grit and the look of regular movies. We wanted to make sure we were making a movie not just for the saved, but for the unsaved,” Hannah Beth said. “We wanted them to go in and not feel turned off, but to see the gospel presented in a real relatable way. We wanted it to be a movie for the hurt, the broken, the saved and unsaved. No certain demographic in mind. We wanted the 85-year old woman or the 14 year-old-boy to walk away and say it was a good movie.”

That in itself created some issues when it came to promoting the film and reaching out to distributors.

“When God gave my husband the vision for this, he said he felt God telling him this would reach the nation,” she said. “None of it make sense on how it got to the theaters. It’s in two chains. One of the companies we talked to asked how we got an independently produced movie into the theaters like this, because for a film to get to the theater is a .01 percent chance anyway. It makes no sense why we’re there.

“The very first email (response) we got was one theater chain,” she said. “The man we reached out to said we might be able to get a one-day showing at a couple of theaters, but that just doesn’t happen.”

More than 50 emails later the movie is in nationwide release with several theaters in larger cities showing it multiple times a day for a week. Some locations have booked the film for only four days with one showing a day. If it does well in these locations, it could likely then find its way to screens in smaller cities such as Florence and Tupelo.

The nearest theaters carrying the film are Regal Hollywood-Huntsville, Regal-Trussville, and three theaters in the Memphis area: Malco Majestic Cinema in Germantown; Malco Cordova Cinema and Malco Wolfchase Cinema in Bartlett.

Hannah Beth is the daughter of Scott and Tracy Eubanks of Golden, and is a 2008 graduate of Belmont High School.

“It’s not been an easy journey and it’s been a test of faith from the beginning,” she said. “I told my husband that if it reaches one person, it’s been worth it. We’re not doing it for the money or notoriety. We’re just the tools God’s using to get His message out. We’re really excited for people to see this movie and see what God’s done.”