'To Be Born' Touches Hearts and Saves Lives

Priest Produces Pro-Life Short Film

(photo: ToBeBorn.com)

Jan. 15 issue feature.

Nearly everyone involved in pro-life ministry will say that one thing they want to do is give a “voice” to the unborn.

A new film, titled To Be Born, produced by Spirit Juice Studios, does just that.

In the powerful short film, a young woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy seeks to have an abortion. In the midst of the procedure, she hears her unborn daughter speaking to her.

Steve McEveety, producer of The Passion of the Christ, described the film as “visually gripping … one of the most powerful pro-life short films I have ever seen.”

For nearly 10 years, Catholic priest Father Stephen Lesniewski has used the story “A Letter From an Aborted Child,” written by Marisol Hernandez, with women facing crisis pregnancies. Father Lesniewski does sidewalk counseling outside of abortion businesses on the South Side of Chicago two or three days per week. He estimates that more than 500 babies, and their mothers, have been saved because of his efforts to share the story.

“I got the letter from a young woman in my parish,” said Father Lesniewski, who serves as associate pastor at Chicago’s Epiphany Catholic Church. “I would read it to girls outside of abortion businesses. It goes right to the heart.”

As a result of the success he had both with the letter and an audio version of the letter, Father Lesniewski wanted to produce a film so that the message could reach an even larger audience.

“The earlier you can reach a woman, the better,” said Father Lesniewski. “I decided that something visual would help.”

So he approached Spirit Juice Studios in 2009.

“We took the letter, restructured it and gave it a story,” said Rob Kaczmark, production manager with Spirit Juice Studios. “We hired professional actors, had someone develop a script, and I took on the role of director and editor.”

Spirit Juice Studios, founded by Kaczmark and Bernie Czerwinski in 2007, is a multi-disciplinary design studio providing Web, print, motion design and audio production primarily to Catholic organizations.

Father Lesniewski used his own money and raised additional money privately to fund the production of the film.

On May 1, 2011, Divine Mercy Sunday, To Be Born premiered to a packed house at the Marcus Cinema in Orland Park, Ill. More than 350 people attended the premiere, including many from Father Lesniewski’s parish.

Response to the film has been positive, even as the subject matter is difficult.

“The clinic scene was by far the hardest scene,” admitted Amanda Lopez, the lead actress.

“Those who don’t like it find it too intense,” said Kaczmark. “I wanted the film to address the reality of abortion in an emotional way. I didn’t make the film to please the whole pro-life audience. It’s for women.”

For those who have lived the reality of abortion, it goes straight to the heart.

“This video shows the emotional reality of abortion and what it’s like to lose the most precious gift given to us by God, motherhood,” said Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood director and author of Unplanned, who became a pro-life leader after a 40 Days for Life campaign was held outside of her Planned Parenthood center.

“People need to see this,” added Katie Reidy, a post-abortive counselor and former director of volunteer services with Chicago’s The Women’s Center. “I think this film will reach out to and target a different population then the regular ‘pro-lifers,’ which is good. It is needed.”

The only challenge yet remaining for the film’s producers is letting more people know about it. The movie is available through the film’s website (ToBeBorn.com), various social networks, such as Facebook and YouTube, and as a DVD for purchase.

Because most of the budget went toward production, marketing and distribution has been largely word-of-mouth. In addition to social-network channels and the website, the film is being distributed through Ignatius Press and a Spanish television network. It’s also beginning to be used by crisis-pregnancy centers.

The 15-minute film is available in English, Spanish and Polish. The Spanish and Polish versions are different not only in language, but also in content and imagery, to reach their respective audiences. Online, the film has already been viewed more than 30,000 times.

Interestingly, some of those involved in the film had personal connections with abortion. The baby girl featured in the film was scheduled to be aborted, but after the mother spoke with Father Lesniewski, she decided not to go through with the abortion. In addition, the young girl who is shown writing the letter in the film was also going to be aborted. Her mother chose life and now goes with Father Lesniewski to pray, witness, and do sidewalk counseling outside of abortion businesses — where the film has a pivotal role. Father Lesniewski shows the movie to young women via a portable DVD player.

“The film gives a voice and a face to the unborn,” said Father Lesniewski. “Ninety-five percent of the women who watch it are moved to tears. If even one child could be saved, it’s worth all the money.”

Register senior writer Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.