BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — When filmmakers Jon and Andrew Erwin tackled October Baby, they knew that their movie was imitating life. The film is loosely based on the life of abortion survivor Gianna Jessen.
What they didn’t know is that their art was imitating life in more ways than one, through the story of one of the film’s actresses.
The part road-trip, part-romance drama follows the journey of Hannah, a college freshman who learns that she was adopted and the survivor of a failed abortion attempt. She sets out to find her birth mother and ends up learning a lesson about forgiveness. The film is being distributed by Sony’s Provident Films and opens in theaters nationwide March 23. Among its stars, it features actors Jon Schneider and Jasmine Guy.
After being asked to consider the role of Hannah’s birth mother and reading the script, actress Shari Rigby called co-director Jon Erwin, and asked, “How did you know?”
“I said, ‘What are you talking about?’” he said.
Rigby went on to tell him that 20 years earlier, while working for a law firm, she became pregnant and had an abortion.
“It was easier to get rid of the child, to not be questioned again, rather than to have the child and be looked upon, at that time, like another failure,” said Rigby.
“For a lot of us post-abortive women and men, we try to stuff it so far down that we pile other things from our past over the top of it,” said Rigby. “This was my first real look at dealing with my past abortion.”
Rigby said that her role in the film brought about what she describes as a “miraculous healing.”
“Christ met me at the well and forgave me,” said Rigby. “Since then, it’s been healing to see why some of these things go on and being able to speak about it.”
Rachel Hendrix, who stars in the lead role, said that the film has encouraged people to talk.
“This is something that people don’t talk about,” said Hendrix. “People will respond to it emotionally. It’s touching.”
“It’s opening dialogue,” added Hendrix. “People are sharing with us. That’s something we didn’t expect.”
While the story is fictional, it was inspired by the real-life story of Gianna Jessen, who survived a saline abortion.
“We were so moved by her story,” said co-director Andrew Erwin.
“Her life is beautiful and a testament to the beauty of life in general — and a testament to what the world would have lost if she had never been given the right to exist,” said Jon Erwin, the other director.
Unlike other films released by Provident Films, October Baby lacks the strong evangelical Christian sermonizing, yet it has the potential to be used as a helpful tool to evangelize on the topics of adoption, abortion, redemption and forgiveness.
The film had a limited release in approximately 15 theaters in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee in late October of last year. The film’s performance demonstrated its appeal.
“The film shattered all our expectations,” said Jon Erwin. “It earned $8,000 per screen.”
Asked about her hopes for the film and those who see it, Hendrix said, “First, I hope audiences will be entertained. Secondly, I definitely hope that there will be an element of healing for women. Many women have felt condemned by a difficult decision they’ve made concerning pregnancy. I hope the film is a cathartic experience for them.”
The filmmakers are donating 10% of the film’s profits to the Every Life Is Beautiful Fund, which will distribute funds to organizations that assist women facing crisis pregnancies, life-affirming adoption agencies, and those caring for orphans.
“We feel like it’s very important to use October Baby as an opportunity to serve, give back and save lives,” said Jon Erwin. “That’s what we want the fund to be about.”
The film has already received praise from many pro-life leaders who saw the film during its limited release.
“October Baby is the most gripping drama ever produced about the central civil-rights issue of our time — the right to life,” said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. “Young people, in particular, will find it intensely moving. This is a must-see movie for all Americans.”
“One of the most powerful scenes in the movie, for me, was when Hannah tracks down the nurse from the abortion clinic, played by Jasmine Guy,” wrote Kelly Clinger, a spokeswoman for the Silent No More Awareness Campaign. “I was stunned at the honesty of what the nurse shared. The makers of October Baby were not afraid to tell it.”
Tim Drake writes from St. Joseph, Minnesota.