Gimme Shelter, a new pro-life, pro-family movie inspired by dramatic real-life stories, opens in theaters across the country on Jan. 24 (GimmeSheltertheMovie.com).
It is the story of a homeless pregnant teenager named Agnes Bailey (nicknamed "Apple" and played by Vanessa Hudgens).
With no place to go, Apple sets out on a journey of preservation for herself and her unborn baby.
A major turning point comes when she meets Father Frank McCarthy, played by James Earl Jones, who takes a personal interest in helping Apple turn her life around.
This movie is based on the work of Kathy DiFiore (played by Ann Dowd), a suburban housewife who became homeless after fleeing an abusive marriage.
"I just walked out," DiFiore told the Register. "I had nothing but my purse. … I prayed the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, and that was the only way I felt peace in my soul."
DiFiore eventually bought a little house with an extra bedroom and told God that she would do anything for him. "It was then that I took in the first pregnant woman. My whole life turned around."
In 1981, she did not know that the Several Sources Shelters (a network of resources devoted to helping women in need) she would later found would end up aiding more than 15,000 mothers and babies. Several real-life shelter mothers and their babies play roles in the film, and DiFiore makes a cameo appearance.
Mother Teresa’s Help
DiFiore’s ministry received help from Blessed Mother Teresa.
DiFiore had been taking in more pregnant moms, when she was fined $10,000 by the state of New Jersey for running a boarding house (even though DiFiore didn’t charge the needy moms anything for staying with her).
She worked to show the state that she was running a shelter, not a boarding house. A proposed bill that would allow her to be exempt from boarding-house laws looked like it would pass, but the governor was skeptical that other people would be as kindhearted as DiFiore.
Surprisingly, DiFiore received a phone call of support for her efforts from President Ronald Reagan’s staff at the White House.
Also at that time, Mother Teresa was in New York to open an AIDS hospice. DiFiore felt inspired to contact Mother Teresa to ask for her help.
"Within three phone calls, we had Mother Teresa on the phone, and she said she would do anything to have the bill passed into law," DiFiore recalled. Mother Teresa wrote a letter to Gov. Thomas Kean, in which she said, "I beg you to sign this bill into law for the people who want to shelter these women in their own homes."
Within 10 days, the DiFiore bill was signed into law, allowing people to board up to six people in their homes for charitable reasons.
"I think she’s the patron saint of this movie," DiFiore added. "If I get to heaven, I am going to ask Mother Teresa if she had anything to do with Gimme Shelter."
DiFiore likens her shelters to "a sorority of young women who are tackling life’s burdens."
Her commitment was obvious to veteran-actor Jones. "Kathy DiFiore is very dedicated," he told the Register. "And, of course, the issue of homeless young mothers is an important one."
Ronald Krauss, the writer, director and co-producer of the movie, met DiFiore in late 2009 at the United Nations, where she was being honored for her work with teenage mothers. "I was immediately intrigued," Krauss recalled. "I arranged to visit one of her shelters, and I was awed by what I saw." He observed DiFiore’s life-changing work in action for an entire year.
Krauss recounted a pivotal encounter he experienced shortly after arriving at the shelter. "I saw a young girl standing in front of the shelter. It must have been 18 degrees outside," he added. "I thought she lived there, so I let her in. It turned out she wasn’t a resident. She had heard about the shelter and walked about 25 miles to get there, with no coat and [was] three months pregnant."
"She was desperate for a place to stay," recalled Krauss. "When she heard there was room for her, she grabbed me and hugged me so hard she almost knocked me over. That hug was the inspiration for the movie."
"The shelter began to seem like holy ground to me," Krauss continued. "As I became close to several of the girls and heard their stories, I began to write this screenplay based on their lives."
Krauss believes that the movie "really reflects the work in the shelters and the 33 years of what Kathy is doing. There’s a lot of love and compassion in these shelters. The story is real, and the girls are real."
The first girl Krauss met at the shelter that cold day inspired the Apple character in the film.
Actress Hudgens immersed herself into the character of Apple by living at a shelter, cutting her hair and gaining a bit of weight.
"It was an opportunity to completely transform myself. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see myself. The story, which is based on the lives of several young women who stayed at the shelter, is completely terrifying, which was all the more reason why I wanted to do it," Hudgens said in a press release.
"The girls really opened up to me and made me feel like I was one of them," Hudgens said. "At first, it was a little rough. In the end, all the pieces of the puzzle fell together in a beautiful way."
The movie’s impact was already being felt at pre-screenings. "It’s overwhelming, at every screening," said Krauss. "People are moved like I haven’t seen in a long time."
Viewers aren’t the only ones who have been touched by the movie. "It moved me," James Earl Jones told the Register. "That was the primary reason I joined the production. It was because of what Ron had done — the dedication he had put into it."
Jones emphasized the importance of this kind of movie. "I think it’s important to make movies about real problems," he said. "I think when they [moviegoers] witness this story about this one girl in the homeless center, they’ll be moved. You can’t change people’s minds, but you can change their hearts."
Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle
is an EWTN TV host and author of numerous books.