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

Film Slated for Broadcast Premiere on PBS as a Part of the Acclaimed Weekly Series Independent Lens during 2004-2005 Season

Seth Carmichael 917-863-8414 (cell) seth@carmichaelfilms.com
Randall Cole 415/356-8383, ext. 254 randall_cole@itvs.org
Cara White 843/881-1480 carapub@aol.com
Wilson Ling 415/356-8383, ext. 231 wilson_ling@itvs.org 

Seth Carmichael 917.863.8414 (cell)
Randall Cole 415.425.3050 (cell)
Cara White 843.224.1442 (cell)
Wilson Ling 415.385.5239 (cell)
Jeremy Walker and Associates/ITVS Press Office, 435.649.2900, room 113 

Program web site: www.sayamen.org 

(San Francisco, CA) 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 capital. 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. 

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 in one of the country's most impoverished neighborhoods less than a mile way, residents celebrate a more soulful commemoration of the event. In the year leading to Easter, this feature-length documentary follows four characters who rely on a storefront church to sustain them through the challenges in the inner city. Within the tightly prescribed boundaries of this church and its small congregation, each character calls upon their 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 capital: rampant unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and violence. 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, JoAnn 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 and dramatic sequence in the documentary, Bobby Perkins Sr. 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 children, who wants to get off public assistance by training to become a nurse's assistant, despite the disadvantage of having only a 6th 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 Darlene 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 producing 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 capital. 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 to positively affect the lives of young people and adults. 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 till 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. LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN allows the audience to feel as if they have lived with each member of the church, shared their conflicts and joys, and seen the outside world from their perspective. By giving an urban neighborhood and its church a face and an individual story, the documentary creates a very different portrait of inner city life than the stereotypes often depicted on television – one of dignity, power, and self-determination. The strength of the narrative arc, the truth of its observational detail, and the perspective of the church members themselves, gives LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN its emotional power, one that will bring the audience closer to a people and culture long overlooked by American television. 

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 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 www.itvs.org. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American People. 

About PBS 
PBS, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, is a private, nonprofit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation's 349 public television stations. Serving nearly 90 million people each week, PBS enriches the lives of all Americans through quality programs and education services on noncommercial television, the Internet and other media. More information about PBS is available at www.pbs.org, the leading dot-org web site on the internet. 


Posted on January 20, 2004