The buzz and excitement over the 168 Film Festival Awards was not limited to the nominated filmmakers or the faithful staff that mounts the enterprise each year. The celebrity presenters commissioned to bring sparkle and glamour to the awards show were equally thrilled to walk the Red Carpet, and participate in promoting and spotlighting the value of this festival.
Kim Estes, a veteran actor whose credits include House, NCIS, and Criminal Minds came to present the Best Actor and Actress award. "Truly, I'm the luckiest guy on the planet. It's nice to be here, it's a wonderful atmosphere, great people. People here are networking, they're meeting. This is what it's all about in the business: finding your dreams, looking at future dreams, being here and participating.”
Steven Cevolani had not heard about the 168 Film Project when he was asked to present the Best Choice Award. "When they asked me to be a part of it, I researched it. It's not just, 'make a film about faith', it's like there's going to be a challenge, and we'll give you a 168 hours, seven days to write a movie, cast it, shoot it, edit it, and present it. Then we're going to throw a twist in there, there's going to be a theme too, and you're going to have to throw a Bible verse in there. It's really cool to see that [this type of challenge] is out there."
Unlike Steven Cevolani, Grammy-winning composer Michael Lehmann Boddicker knows the 168 Project intimately. He has been involved since day one, over eleven years ago, and counts founder and director John David Ware among his friends. But it is the collaboration born through the project that he finds most appealing. “We really believe in 168. I've seen how the people come together, what they accomplish together as a team. You are just thrown into the fire for a week, and it's amazing what some of the folks come up with—it's really terrific."
Team building, collaboration, and seeing dreams fulfilled are legitimate draws, and often the hallmark of other film festivals. What makes the 168 Film Festival unique is the faith-based aspect, and many of the presenters were delighted to get an opportunity to support something spiritually wholesome, and family-oriented.
Veteran actress Patrika Darbo echoed this sentiment. " It's so few and far between that we have family adventures or family opportunities in film, so this is great."
Up-and-coming actor Eloy Mendez emphasized this as well. “I believe that one of our responsibilities as filmmakers is to inspire other people,” he said. “Festivals like this give an amazing opportunity to filmmakers to make movies that matter to a lot of people in society, to humanity, to mankind. So that's one of the reasons I'm here, because I support this.”
Full House's Candace Cameron Bure had been invited to the festival in the past, but was not able to work it into her schedule. This year the opportunity opened again, and she was able to attend. “My faith is very important to me in my life. I'm a Christian, and I love to see people make great films that support the Gospel. This is where my heart is at, so I love to support it.”
Zane Stephens from the film The Internship finds it all very inspiring, and wants this type of inspiration to spread throughout the creative community. “I want to see other people who are creative, who are of a faith base, and see what they can produce, and see what they can make, and hopefully be inspired by the work.”
Some of the presenters represented a new breed of young Hollywood that is unashamed and fluid in being vocal about their faith. They see no wall of separation.
Days of our Lives and The Artist actress Jen Lilley encourages artists of faith to let their light shine in all aspects of their work. "If you hide your light under a bushel, Jesus, unfortunately is not going to recognize you either," Jen says, "so you might as well be vocal about it. But just be loving. You know what I mean? I think there are enough people who are using Christianity as a bat, as a stick. But their hearts are not in the right place. So I say, if your heart is in the right place, totally share! No one is going to be offended.”
One of the youngest presenters, Jordan Van Vranken credits the 168 Film Festival as part of the reason she chose to pursue acting. She started out with small roles in past 168 films. These helped launch her into parts on Criminal Minds and in the feature film Bad Teacher. Jordan is now starring in a feature based on the 2013 168 documentary, Six Days on a Raft. Jordan is representative of the pivotal role the 168 Film Project can play in the marketplace. “I think the 168 Project is a great thing for people who believe in God, and people who don't—it brings people together.”
The168 Film Project’s unique challenge to filmmakers of "a day, a verse, and a week" allows artists of faith to express this within their craft and brings believers and non-believers together for a unified purpose. It seems like God’s will is being done.