Let the Church Say Amen

Documentary by David Petersen Provides Powerful and Uplifting Look at How Faith Enables a Community to Overcome the Challenges of Inner-City Life in the Nation's Capital

Mary Lugo 770/623-8190 lugo@negia.net
Randall Cole 415/356-8383 x254 randall_cole@itvs.org
Desiree Gutierrez 415/356-8383 x244 desiree_gutierrez@itvs.org 

Program companion Website: www.pbs.org/letthechurchsayamen 

(San Francisco) The Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. present LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN, a riveting and emotional documentary that tracks the journey of four members of a small, “storefront” church as they create a better life for themselves and their families in an underprivileged neighborhood in the Nation's Capitol. LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN was executive produced by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., produced and directed by Academy Award®-nominated director David Petersen; and produced by Mridu Chandra for the Independent Television Service (ITVS) with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN will air nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens, hosted by Susan Sarandon, on Tuesday, March 29, 2005, at 10pm (check local listings). 

Every year at Easter, the White House engages in the annual media event known as the Easter Egg Roll, a secular interpretation of the Christian holiday. Yet less than a mile way, in one of the country's most impoverished neighborhoods, residents celebrate a more soulful commemoration of the event. In the year leading to Easter, LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN follows four characters that rely on a storefront church to sustain them through the challenges of living in the inner city. Within the tightly proscribed boundaries of this church and its small congregation, each character calls upon his or her faith and community to overcome the unemployment, homelessness and violence that affect their lives and many other American families living in poverty. As members of the congregation work toward fulfilling their hopes for a better life, we witness how this church, like others across the country, becomes a tremendous source of strength and power for an urban community. 

Over the course of a year, LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN chronicles the daily life surrounding World Missions for Christ Church in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Like many urban communities that haven't benefited from America's prosperity, these citizens face challenges that would be shocking for any U.S. city, let alone that of the nation's capitol. Yet, the strength of this community comes from a storefront church of modest resources and great spiritual power. Years ago the space was a corner store. Now it serves as a sanctuary where members gather every Sunday to sing, pray, testify, and through the power of their faith, work to change the community.

In a verité style, the documentary tracks the powerful and dramatic turns in the lives of four church members, with World Missions for Christ serving as the anchor for their stories and for the documentary. Originally founded by Rev. Dr. JoAnn Perkins, with the support of her mother and eleven siblings, the church has not only saved the lives of those in the community, but those in the Perkins family. While living on welfare, Perkins earned a Ph.D. in special education through scholarships at Georgetown University, yet she saw that, by living in the city, her brother Bobby had slipped into a dangerous drug addiction. In a powerful sequence, Bobby testifies how he got saved from a path of certain destruction by joining the church, prompting his sister to give up her title and make him pastor. 

LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN then follows the stories of three other members, beginning with Darlene Duncan, a mother of eight who wants to get off public assistance by training to become a nurse's assistant, despite the disadvantage of having only a sixth grade education. Another featured member, David Surles, lost his job, children and home to substance abuse, and now lives and works in a homeless shelter. By working odd jobs and saving every penny, he hopes to reunite his family by buying a house with a backyard and a tree. Singer and evangelist Ceodtis Fulmore, or Brother C as the church calls him, wants to reach out to the young people by producing a religious CD. His concerns about his own children and family who live in a troubled neighborhood prompted his vision for the music ministry. 

The documentary follows Duncan as she tries to study amidst the distractions of an apartment filled with kids, barely meeting her bills each month. David Surles takes his kids to a shopping mall, struggling with the demands of paying for expensive sneakers while saving for a house that will bring his family together. Brother C makes plans for his CD with his 10 year-old son Cenquan playing drums, but in the midst of rehearsals, his oldest son Ceon is stabbed to death a block from their home. This tragedy prompts Pastor Perkins and other members to console Brother C in his grief, and help him seek justice for his son's murder from an indifferent police force. 

With these challenges, the church family and pastor call upon their tremendous source of faith to support each member's quest for a better life in the Nation's Capitol. In addition to these challenges, the church uses its modest resources to meet the essential needs of the community. These include clothing and food giveaways, after school tutoring, a book club, GED, computer training, services for battered women and educational training. World Missions for Christ Church is representative of an urban phenomenon, which has been fundamental to African American, and now to Hispanic, city life since the early 1900s. 

Growing out of a need to reach the most disadvantaged citizens at the street level, these small churches sprang up as life rafts of faith in almost every American city during the Great Depression. Though they have rarely been recognized by the media until now, these small churches have become indispensable fixtures in the urban landscape of America, transforming a city block into a religious and social service center, which provides support for its members and surrounding neighbors. 

In an age when fundamentalist religion evokes fears of intolerance, cultists and terrorism, LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN offers a broader insight into why it plays such an important role in human society. By showing a fundamentalist African American Christian church from the perspective of its congregation, LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN reveals how faith and community become an essential source of strength for those who want to create lasting change in a society that has remained indifferent to them. 

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Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Executive Producer) 
Gates is one of the most prominent and well-known academics in the United States today. He has drawn the world's attention to Harvard's Afro-American Studies program since he took over as its chair, and his reputation has been solidly built on several fronts as well. As a critic and editor, Gates contributed to broadening the discourse on African American literature with books like Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the Racial Self (1987) and The Signifying Monkey: Towards a Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (1988). He also wrote the introductions for two books by the documentary's collaborating photographer Thomas Roma: Come Sunday and Sanctuary. Gates has been instrumental in changing the literary canon in U.S. education and bringing literary history to light through the numerous critical texts and republished works he has edited, as well as lost manuscripts he has discovered. Beyond this, Gates has narrated a major PBS documentary on Africa and co-edited a Pan-African encyclopedia on CD-ROM. 

David Petersen (Director/Producer/Editor) 
Petersen's films about self-sustaining communities have been exhibited at numerous international museums and festivals, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of American History, and The Library of Congress. His Academy Award nominated documentary Fine Food, Fine Pastries, Open 6 to 9 received first place prizes in numerous international film festivals and won an Emmy and CINE Golden Eagle award. His PBS documentary If You Lived Here You Would Be Home Now premiered at The National Gallery of Art and won a CINE Golden Eagle Award and was an Independent Spirit Award Nominee. His film I Run and Feel Rain: Scenes won a 1993 Rosebud Festival Award; and he has produced various programs for PBS. As an editor, his credits include Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, Roger and Me, City at Peace, and numerous investigative documentaries for the PBS Frontline series. As a writer, Petersen received commissions from the Broadway performance art group Squonk Opera; the La Jolla Theater Company; and had his screenplay, I Run and Feel Rain, optioned by Miramax. He has received artist fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and The Ragdale Foundation. Petersen currently teaches at New Jersey City University. 

Mridu Chandra (Producer) 
Chandra has had her films exhibited at numerous international festivals and museums, including the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum, the Kennedy Center, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights Film Program, and the World Social Forum 2004 in Mumbai, India. In addition to producing LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN (Sundance Official Selection 2004), she co-produced Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, a feature length documentary portrait of late civil rights and peace activist. A Sundance Official Selection 2003, Brother Outsider has won numerous awards. A member of the CPB/WGBH Producers Academy, she has served as producer, associate producer, and assistant editor on a variety of PBS productions in New York. Her writing appears in The Brooklyn Rail. She has a master's degree from the University of Chicago and currently lives in Brooklyn. 

Thomas Roma (Collaborating Photographer) 
Twice the recipient of Guggenheim Fellowships, Thomas Roma's work has appeared in one-person and group exhibitions internationally, including one-person shows with accompanying books at the Museum of Modern Art NY and the International Center of Photography. His books include Come Sunday, Found in Brooklyn, Sunset Park and Higher Ground. His work is in numerous collections, including the Museum of Modern Art NY, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Canadian Center for Architecture, Montreal. Roma is currently the Director of Photography at Columbia University, as well as a founding contributing photographer for DoubleTake Magazine. 

About ITVS 
Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the web and the Emmy Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10pm on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. More information about ITVS can be obtained by visiting itvs.org. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. 

About PBS 
PBS is a private, nonprofit media enterprise that serves the nation's 349 public noncommercial television stations, reaching nearly 90 million people each week. Bringing diverse viewpoints to television and the Internet, PBS provides high-quality documentary and dramatic entertainment, and consistently dominates the most prestigious award competitions. PBS is the leading provider of educational materials for K-12 teachers, and offers a broad array of educational services for adult learners. PBS' premier kids' TV programming and Web site, PBS KIDS Online (pbskids.org), continue to be parents' and teachers' most trusted learning environments for children. More information about PBS is available at pbs.org, the leading dot-org website on the internet. PBS is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia.

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Posted on January 18, 2005