Movie Review: Hallmark’s Garage Sale Mystery with Lori Loughlin

Hallmark Movies & Mystery Channel features a series of movies in the “Cozy Mysteries” genre.

Cozy mysteries, also referred to as “cozies”, are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. Cozies thus stand in contrast to hardboiled fiction, which feature violence and sexuality more explicitly and centrally to the plot. The term “cozy” was first coined in the late 20th century when various writers produced work in an attempt to re-create the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Wikipedia

Hallmark has adapted several cozy book mysteries into movies.

There are the Aurora Teagarden movies starring Candace Cameron Bure. These movies are based on a fictional character created by author Charlaine Harris, in a series of ten crime novels written from 1990 to 2017. “In the first book of the series, twenty-eight-year-old Aurora (Roe) Teagarden is a professional librarian and belongs to the Real Murders club, a group of 12 enthusiasts who gather monthly to study famous baffling or unsolved crimes.”

There’s the Flower Shop Mysteries based on Kate Collins’ books of the same series title. The series stars Brooke Shields as a “professional librarian and belongs to the Real Murders club, a group of 12 enthusiasts who gather monthly to study famous baffling or unsolved crimes.”

In the Garage Sale Mystery, Lori Loughlin stars as a vintage store owner who scours garage sales and estate sales for items for her store, and stumbles across mysteries and murders along the way. This series is based on the books by Suzi Weinert. The executive producers of Garage Sale Mystery are also executive producers on the Hallmark television series When Calls the Heart, so the Garage Sale Mystery series features many of the same actors.

You might remember Lori Loughlin from the 1980s television family friendly series Full House. She also stars in When Calls the Heart, and other Hallmark productions.

I like a good caper movie, mysteries, and crime books and movies,  but I do not like the gore, psychological tension, or horrible/evil murders especially involving children. I also don’t like dark movies, either in psychology or in cinematography.

The Garage Sale Mystery (GSM) features none of that. The main character, Jennifer Shannon, lives in an affluent town in Virginia. The homes she visits throughout the movie and including her own, are beautiful mansions. If you remember the iconic series Columbo, his ‘clients’ were always in Beverly Hills, lived in gorgeous homes, and were from the upper class. If I’m going to watch a mystery, at least I’m not watching gutter dirty dark psychological thriller, but a tea drinking, well dressed attractive woman with a genial personality. In GSM there’s always lots of light and sunlight and bright colors in most every scene. The main character is in a happy, stable marriage with a movie-perfect husband and two movie-perfect teenage children. She is a good mom.  The children usually have some kind of sub-story.

Somehow, the way the movie is written, and despite the fact that a murder does occur and Jennifer is usually in life-threatening peril by the climax, the atmosphere isn’t heart-rending or dark. The writers maintain in Jennifer a hopeful innocence with a razor-sharp mind and a high-level ability to observe and remember. As a matter of fact, the last shot of each movie shows Jennifer in a close-up with a big smile. This is an enjoyable way to conclude a movie. The relationship Jennifer has with the co-owner of her store is a good one, always pleasant. No harsh words are spoken, even when Jennifer confronts the murderer. It’s a relief to watch a movie where all the interpersonal interactions are warm and polite.

It is a ‘cozy mystery’ to a Tee.

What I find amusing is that despite the fact that Jennifer seems to stumble on a dead body seemingly every time she leaves her house, the series avoids the claustrophobic feeling of the Cabot Cove Syndrome. This is a TV Trope named after the location in which fictional character Jessica Fletcher of the television series Murder, She Wrote lived. The television series aired for 12 seasons with 264 episodes from 1984 to 1996 on CBS. Angela Lansbury was the main character, and “murder occurred with such regularity in her vicinity that the term “Cabot Cove syndrome” was coined to describe the constant appearance of dead bodies in remote locations. Indeed, if Cabot Cove existed in real life, it would top the FBI’s national crime statistics in numerous categories, with some analysis suggesting that the homicide rate in Cabot Cove exceeds even that of the real-life murder capital of the world” (Wikipedia). The UK Daily Mail has more-

The most dangerous place on Earth is revealed to be… the fictional setting for TV series Murder, She Wrote

The idyllic seaside town of Cabot Cove looks at first glance like a pleasant and relaxing place to live.

In fact, it is the murder capital of the world and far more dangerous than the most violent parts of the globe, including Honduras in Central America. Thankfully, it is just the fictional New England setting for popular TV series Murder, She Wrote. Amateur detective Jessica Fletcher, played by Angela Lansbury, encountered a total of 274 killings in the small town in Maine, despite it having a population of just 3,500. This gives it an annual murder rate of 1,490 per million — more than 50 per cent higher than Honduras, where it is 910 per million.

The British mystery series, Agatha Raisin based on the books by M.C. Beaton, is another series that in my opinion suffered terribly from Cabot Cove Syndrome. There were several issues with the single-season series, and one of them was that the series is set in the British area of the Cotswolds. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty and much of it is protected, but the villages dotting the aforementioned beautiful hills are small. Very small. By the end of the one season that was broadcast, I surmise that the fictional death rate was even higher than in Cabot Cove.

Anyway, the confined feeling I got from Murder, She Wrote and Agatha Raisin is absent in Garage Sale Mystery. The series presents an aura that is expansive enough not to be claustrophobic but small enough to maintain the cozy atmosphere so important in this genre.

I also enjoy the garage sale aspect. I like a good hunt myself for just the perfect item that has a history behind it and is also a good deal!

I recommend the Garage Sale Mystery series. They’re clean. It can be seen on on Hallmark, Sling TV, an occasional older movie on Youtube, and elsewhere.


Further reading

Finding Wonderland, Review: The Deadly Room

Dove review: Garage Sale Mystery

Amazon Customer reviews: 215 reviews of this series (92% are 4 & 5-star)

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect

Do you like sweet movies, maybe with a little music or dance, with a tried-and-true simple plot, featuring adult teens and twentysomethings, all innocent? I do too! So I watched the movie Pitch Perfect because I’d heard it was all of the above! It wasn’t!

Pitch Perfect was released in 2012, so I am very late to the party. The movie follows disaffected Beca Mitchell, just arrived at Barden College, dismissing her newly divorced father’s persistent advice to get more involved in college life. Loner Beca drifts until she becomes inadvertently involved with the Barden Bellas, an all-female a Cappella competitive singing group. The Bellas made it to the finals of a nationwide singing competition last year but an unfortunate incident involving the lead singer during their finals performance caused great humiliation and their loss. The leader of the group wants redemption.

Redemption won’t come however, as their tired and decades-old routines are consistently outshone by other groups who sing and dance with fresher approaches. Beca has some great ideas, but she is shot down by the leader who insists that tradition will get them the win. As the Bellas make their way through the quarterfinals and semi finals, with the finals looming, will the Bellas eventually embrace change and try a new approach? Will Beca, only barely hanging in with little commitment, stay with the group to the end?

The singing was good and so were the dances. The storyline, though recycled from a million other competition movies before it, was absorbing enough. However, the movie featured promiscuous sex (nothing shown, only referenced), drinking, vomiting from drinking, language, and lesbianism. Most of the dances were suggestive in the extreme. During the final performance one of the singer-dancers performed a lascivious move I wish I could unsee.

The review at Common Sense media was generous, but the Parent Reviews on the same website were not generous at all. The parent reviews in my opinion displayed more common sense.

common sense

Common Sense Media’s review/rating


User reviews by parents at CSM, most reviews were of this vein

Then movie was not wholesome, despite its rating of PG-13. I have fewer objections to R-rated movies, because with them at least you know what you’re getting. This one, advertised as sweet and appropriate for ten-year-olds, left me wanting to take a shower.

Not recommended.

Movie Review: The Great Gilly Hopkins

Summer time means movie time, but for the discerning Christian that often means spending more time looking for a suitable movie to view than actually getting to settle down and watch one. In my opinion, The Great Gilly Hopkins is an excellent movie for the entire family.

The IMDB synopsis of the movie:

A feisty foster kid’s outrageous scheme to be reunited with her birth mother has unintended consequences in The Great Gilly Hopkins, an entertaining film for the entire family. Gilly Hopkins (Sophie Nélisse) has seen more than her share of foster homes and has outwitted every family she has lived with. In an effort to escape her new foster mother Maime Trotter’s (Kathy Bates) endless loving care, Gilly concocts a plan that she believes will bring her mother running to her rescue. But when the ploy blows up in Gilly’s face it threatens to ruin the only chance she’s ever had to be part of a real family. Based on the award-winning young-adult novel by Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia)

The cast includes Sophie Nélisse as Gilly, in an excellent performance. Her face can carry a series of nuanced emotions that many actors of her age only dream of being able to convey. Also starring are Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, Bill Cobbs, Octavia Spencer, and others you’ll recognize.

I have a huge bias toward kid movies, not just movies for kids like Minions, ToyStory or Monsters Inc, but movies starring kids or about kids. Previously on my link to family-friendly movie reviews I’d reviewed Camp, Raising Izzie, The Blind Side, Walking Across Egypt, The Queen of Katwe, On The Way to School, and others, featuring various childrens’ plights.

Gilly Hopkins is one of the very best of this genre, and with a stellar cast and good production values it lived up to its potential. Gilly has been rejected, marginalized, and shuttled from foster home to foster home, though she has a distant living mother who simply doesn’t want her. This is a fact that Gilly understands deep down but refuses to accept, thus, her repeated attempts to contact and reunite with her mother are sprinkled throughout the film as its thread. In the meantime, Gilly’s barely submerged anger over her maternal rejection rebuffs all who try to get close to her, and Maime’s foster home is threatened to be the last stop before juvie.

Foster mother Bates has one other charge under her care and with the addition of Gilly their placid and loving home life is disrupted immediately. Gilly sneaks, provokes, steals, and eventually lashes out as Bates’ character Maime prays, loves, patiently and tirelessly attempts to show Gilly she has nothing to fear by accepting love.

Glenn Close makes her entrance as Gilly’s Grandmother after recently learning of Gilly’s existence. A custody tussle emerges and presents the vehicle for the climax of the movie.

Other reviewers say that the movie closely follows the book. In order to demonstrate Gilly’s character there are a couple of swear words, rebellion, and some theft, but there is no violence, immodesty, sex, or nudity in this movie. Though Christianity is mentioned, and Maime is seen praying, religion is not a major part of the overt script but patient love as an underlying aspect comes through clearly. It is a good movie for the entire family.

Movie Review: Autistic Driving School

I published this on The Quiet Life, my personal blog, earlier. But with so much negative news out there, such ugly discernment fighting, so much false teaching, dispiriting politics, and just general hate, I thought a breath of fresh air was needed, and I’d post this here too. Because it’s positive, inspiring, and heartfelt.

Autistic Driving School is a 2010 one-hour documentary on Netflix (and perhaps other places too) highlighting Julia Malkin’s founding of a UK driving school that caters to teaching autistic people how to drive. Malkin is autistic herself.

With a driving license comes freedom, something most people want. For autistic teens and young adults however, the challenges of learning to drive safely can seem insurmountable, especially if receiving an instructor with no knowledge of how to teach to their special needs. As was stated in the movie, Autistic people are literal, so there’s no saying ‘take the next left’ because they’re likely to wind up in someone’s garden. Some autistic people do not take instruction or correction well. While some can become excessively distracted, following anything and everything that interests them like a rabbit, others hardly notice anything around them, both of which are a problem when driving. The possibility of becoming overwhelmed and having a meltdown while driving is real. And more.

In comes Julia Malkin.

A woman with autism herself, Julia suffered through years of bullying in school, attempted suicide twice, one at age 16 and another at age 18, suffered through a nervous breakdown at 18, and lived as an adult by subsisting on dead end jobs…until….

Her diagnosis at age 40.

Since then, following her diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, Julia started up Excel Driver and Instructor Academy, which expanded rapidly and now helps people with autism learn to drive, provides education support and offers counselling, is still the only one of its kind in the UK.

She has achieved highest honors for her profession as the safest driver in England, earning an OBE, which is “The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry; rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the Civil Service.”

According to the information given at the link, Julia attained four degrees in six years at two separate universities between 2008 and 2015 and became a Doctor of Philosophy, and founded another course of training to train Driving Instructors to teach autistic clients. The UK National Autistic Society shortlisted her as one of three finalists for the National Autistic Society’s award for outstanding achievement by a professional with an autism spectrum disorder.


If you listen to Julia on the documentary it’s obvious she is brilliant. She is articulate, passionate, and her powers of observation are astounding. At one point during the movie, she’d been asked to speak out loud what goes through her mind as she drives down the road…her observations of her surroundings combined with lightning fast sifting of that information was remarkable.

The documentary wasn’t about Julia directly though. With sensitivity and compassion, several youths were featured in their process of the two-pronged driving training they must go through to attain a license. There is the book test and the on the road test. Several candidates were followed. Each student spoke of the special challenges unique to autistic drivers, according to the student him or herself, or according to their parents. One young main has set a goal for himself to become a Military Transport driver, so of course passing his first license test was important. But a wrinkle to his story is that his doctor had recommended taking a certain prescription medication for his OCD, but if one is on or has ever taken such a drug, it would immediately disqualify him for ever entering the military in the UK. He had a dilemma. He decided to forego the medication, but the result was he’d have to work even harder to manage his condition while he was on the road.

A 22 year old mother had earned her licence a few years prior, but had lost her nerve to drive. Another, a set of twins, create crafts and wanted to found a business of traveling town to town to fairs and such, selling them.

They all wanted freedom and independence that a driving license would provide.

I found the documentary instructive and interesting. It was produced and edited in such a way that you pull for the students and cheer the inspiring story of Julia. With so little attention paid to adults with Autism, and with so few generally inspiring stories around, this was a documentary I’d recommend as a DON’T MISS!

This is part of the documentary, ‘Autistic Driving School’ which was broadcast on BBC3. It tells the story of Julia Malkin, the most qualified driving instructor in the UK. It shows her battle with autism and her mission of inclusion in education both inside and outside the driver training industry.

The River Thief: A movie review


A new movie starring Joel Courtney, Raleigh Cain, and Tommy Cash, (Johnny’s brother), called The River Thief is out in selected theaters. It is being billed as a faith based movie, or a Christian movie.

For what is being said is a faith movie, it’s an unusual one, to be sure. However in my opinion it is far from being anything remotely Christian. It’s more of a freshman entry of an action movie from writer/director ND Wilson than it is anything faith-based.

The film focuses on a youth named Diz (Courtney) who drifts from town to town along the Snake River in Idaho, stealing to survive and also just for the fun of it because he’s good at it. He calls himself Diz, and though it’s never explicitly stated, we surmise the namesake is from St. Dismas. In Catholic tradition, St. Dismas was the name of the Penitent Thief on the Cross. Diz is a motherless boy turned drifter and thief whose father left before he was born. He is on his own, great at stealing, but now wanting a change in his life and haphazardly trying to find his long-lost dad as he goes from town to town.

Diz slows down and remains in and around one particular nameless town along the river, struck by the waitress in the local diner. Diz had racked up a $30 bill and snuck out without paying, the spitfire waitress named Selah (Raeleigh) chases after him and gives him a piece of her mind. Her granddad Marty (Cash) reaches out to Diz, paying his bill and inviting him to dinner at the house he shares with Selah.

During the course of events, Diz also unfortunately steals a million dollars in drug money from two men, one the town’s bad cop, the other named Clyde, who works for the Sinaloa Cartel. Diz clumsily attempts to woo Selah, fend off vague spiritual approaches by Marty, and survive the vicious intent of the bad guys to catch and skin Diz for making off with their million dollars. It all comes to a surprising conclusion and the credits roll with a voiceover.

First, the pros:

Lead actor Joel Courtney is a wonderful, natural actor. He was in Super 8 and his acting was well-received. Tommy Cash is the grandfather who is a little less a natural actor but is warm and sincere and generally seen as a good man by even the evil men. Marty rings true in the movie. Selah is spunky, bordering on angry-bitter. While her character is less developed and more perplexing, she has flashes of natural acting in several scenes as well.

The cinematography is stunning. The look of this movie is a stark beauty which bespeaks hopelessness and hope both at the same time. The aerial shots as well as the scenes by the river are tremendous. The opening scenes with cat burgling Diz deftly lifting valuables from one and all along the river, even boats anchored in the middle of it, are tense and well executed. Just the opening scenes with little to no voice acting give insight into the thieving character that promises to plumb depths … which are sadly never attained.


For a “Christian” movie, there is a high body count. Six people are killed at point blank range in the film, quite a lot for an 87 minute movie. There is also profanity, light and sparsely uttered, but it’s there.

The grandfather, Marty, sings a few verses of Will the Circle be Unbroken, but there are no church scenes, church is not mentioned, and either is prayer mentioned or seen. Jesus is only mentioned once, when Marty said “Jesus gave me a thief…” . The Gospel is not given. Once Marty said to the bad guy, “you picked the wrong side”. There are no bible verses spoken that I can remember, but instead, homilies imbued with a sense of importance as if they were verses. There are only vague references to Someone who created Diz, (Who gave you those hands? Those eyes?). The boy wants a change in his thieving life and the best the grandfather can say is that it is “gratitude that sets you free.”

No. It is not. Repentance and faith in Jesus is what sets you free.

The climactic scene in which we would expect the Gospel to be given, instead is a disappointment. All the Grandfather said was “Can you hear the angels singing?” as he looks beatifically at the ceiling.

One reviewer on IMDB said,

This movie is advertised as a Christian movie, but, other than some random Bible verses quoted a few times by one of the older gentlemen in the movie, there wasn’t much to identify it as such.

Lol, and they weren’t even Bible verses, but platitudes, delivered with solemn gravity to make them seem Bible-ish.

The initial promise of the film to be a gritty action film are never realized as the film lurches from interesting scene to interesting scene with halts and perplexing segues in between. The initial promise of the film to be a redemptive character study within the context of the Christian faith are also sadly never realized either.

This reviewer said it well: (SPOILERS!)

One of the great virtues of The River Thief is an atmosphere of deeper significance which attends one scene after another— or, what poet Robert Wrigley referred to as the “air of meaning more” in a class I took from him back in college. The “air of meaning more” is that hard-to-pin-down quality of ineffable suggestiveness which emerges from referencing the right objects, the right names, the right places, and using the right words. The “air of meaning more” is the sensation that there is something behind a closed door, even if it is never opened…. However, a few moments later, as a dead Diz speaks to us from the Resurrection of the Righteous, I had to wonder whence came the salvation of this character?

Simply using a voiceover with lyrical scenes of a stark landscape do not make the Gospel. The Gospel makes the Gospel clear. The ‘air of meaning more’ in the end lets us down and the whole movie means less than it ought.

I do not recommend it.

Movie Review: "A Matter of Faith"; plus, ‘PureFlix’

A friend recommended the movie A Matter of Faith and I watched the movie. Released in 2014, the film is directed by Rich Christiano and stars Harry Anderson, Jordan Trovillion, Jay Pickett, and Clarence Gilyard. Christiano is an American filmmaker, who has directed, produced and written many Christian films, such as The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry and Time Changer. I’ve watched the former two and they are good.

Harry Anderson (Cheers, Night Court) was the standout actor amid some good-ish but slightly amateur actors, which is usually the case with under-budgeted Christian films. However that was not a deterrent since the film’s premise was so well unfolded.

A Matter of Faith

The movie begins with a family delivering a young college girl to her dorm and encouraging her as they leave her to begin her first year of college. She was raised a Christian and claims to be a Christian, but the girl finds her faith challenged by her biology professor (Anderson) who is an atheist and totally committed to evolution.

A Christian friend supports her but other friends she meets in the dorm and around campus draw her away from her Christian stance, and soon she does not know what to believe. She is freewheeling in limbo, a position that becomes more untenable as the dad’s concern over his daughter increases and he travels to the college to meet with the biology professor. The dad is trapped into agreeing to debate the Prof in public over evolution v creation, which embarrasses his daughter to no end and causes a split between them.

A sub-story that emerges is that years ago, the Biology professor had gotten his creationist colleague fired. Bitter and unhelpful, the ex-professor refuses to help the dad when the dad appeals to him for help in researching material for the debate with the atheist evolutionist.

The dad fears he is not up to the task of debating a superlative speaker such as the biology professor and wonders how to mend the rift with his daughter, and the plot builds to the climactic moment when the debate opens.

I thought the writer did a god job of presenting the myriad issues in a subtle but realistic manner. Any young girl or guy attending college away from home for the first time will be tested, and the world is experienced at drawing away the unwary.

One of my favorite lines is when the girl’s Christian friend at college explains to her that the reason the biology professor is so popular is that he gives a grade of C just for showing up. The girl agrees. Yet the boy says that underlying this unusual grading scheme is a satanic ploy to get as many people as possible into his classes, for the express purpose of delivering atheistic philosophy so as to confuse the weak in faith. “The world is not our friend. The professor has an agenda.” Connecting the grading scheme to the Professor’s intent to delude seemed to surprise the girl. “But he’s so nice! And popular!”

Though we who are more mature readily see these things, youth who are out from under a parent’s wing for the first time may not immediately see the connection.

The girl’s spiritual disciplines waned as other, worldly temptations came her way. She delays finding a church, she has drifted away from reading her Bible, she has not made any Christian friends, nor has she sought out any Christian activities or clubs. And this leaves a vacuum for the ideas of the plausible biology professor to enter in.

The film was clean, with no modesty issues or profanity. It showed the issues facing youth when they leave home for the first time, whether it is to a job, college, or military. The dad was shown as grounded in his church, submitted to his pastor, and leading his family as a shepherd. The usual worldly temptations were shown yet without the usual explicitness. Recommended.

The film brought to mind the testimony of Michael Kruger. Below at the link to The Gospel Coalition, Kruger describes his first year at college in a 6-minute video. Kruger gives students, parents and guardians some solid advice. The essay with accompanying video is titled How to Survive World Religions 101 but could just as easily be titled How to Survive Biology 101.

How to Survive World Religions 101

Michael Kruger on Facing the Challenges of a Secular University Environment
August 27, 2015 

Michael Kruger entered his freshman year at the University of North Carolina as a committed Christian. He thought he was ready for the intellectual challenges college would mount against his faith—that is, until he found himself sitting in a New Testament introduction class with Bart Ehrman as his professor. It left him shell-shocked.

Many students can relate. Churches often have a hard time preparing their youth for a secular university environment. They equip them on a moral level, which is good and important, yet fail to prepare them intellectually and doctrinally. So how can churches better brace young people for the day their faith will be challenged, attacked, and deemed intellectually indefensible by professors and peers? 

In this new video, Kruger, president and professor of New Testament and early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, shares some of the lessons he learned in college. He encourages students to check their expectations, prepare for opposition, dig for answers, and more. Above all, he urges them to anchor themselves in the local church.

I know that many of you are looking for good, clean movies for yourselves or for your children or family. They are hard to come by, we all know this. A friend sent me a link to a movie streaming site called PureFlix. It is based on Netflix, the original streaming movie site, and claims to show only pure films, good for the family of faith. However as the friend says also, one would suppose one would need as much discernment on PureFlix as would be needed at any “Christian bookstore” since so much heresy and doctrines from other faiths is mixed in with the gold. Here is the synopsis of PureFlix,

Pure Flix Entertainment is a Christian film production company, headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. The company produces, distributes, acquires and markets Christian and family-friendly films

Just an FYI for you guys. I do not subscribe to PureFlix so I can’t review it. However I see on the home page I see that at least, blessedly, one can scroll through the offerings safely without having to shield young eyes as you have to do on Hulu or even Netflix. The movie covers shown are clean.

Movie review: Brownstones to Red Dirt

Brownstones to Red Dirt is a 2010 documentary about children living in a violent part of Brooklyn NYC, whose middle school teacher initiated a pen pal program with children in civil war torn Sierra Leone.

The unique aspect of this documentary is that there is no voice over, intoning and opining. No narrator and no narrative. The movie features the voice of the children (and parents and teachers) exclusively. The kids are the ones telling the story.

And what a story it is. The movie blurb at summarizes:

A sweet and lyrical documentary about a simple pen pal program, BROWNSTONES TO RED DIRT captures the growth of sixth graders from housing projects in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn and war orphans from Freetown, Sierra Leone. Though the kids know nothing about one another when they write their first letters, they learn that while their environments are vastly different, the struggles they face make them more alike than they realized. This revelation brings them closer together and teaches us all inspirational lessons about friendship, love and humanity.

The Brooklyn Film Festival blurb has more details:

Brownstones To Red Dirt follows four pairs of pen pals from housing projects in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn and the slums of Freetown, Sierra Leone. These two “lost” groups help one another find their way as they are confronted by remarkably similar issues despite the vast differences of their environments. Through endearing glimpses into the lives of these children, the film highlights the failure of governments and societies to protect their youth.

Each pair of pen pals highlights a major issue faced by kids across the world: Isaiah’s father left him as a baby; Abdul was first taken, then abandoned by the rebel commander that killed his parents. Malik and Balla each use art, not vengeance, to heal. Augusta’s peaceful definition of friendship reaches Destiny in Bed-Stuy, where loyalty is often proven with violence, not love. Fred and Emmanuel, both cast aside by a world that expects little from an inner-city black teen or a third world orphan, are defiant in their quest to better themselves. As the school year progresses, the children use their experiences to unknowingly teach one another simple lessons that will last them a lifetime.

Though this film is not a Christian film, anyone who has a biblical worldview will no doubt see Godly principles expressed through the children. Their initiative, trust, and generosity is a major theme throughout. Their child-like faith is remarkable. In one scene, a desperately impoverished girl in Sierra Leone writes in closing to her pen pal in Brooklyn, ‘No matter what happens I want you to know you have a Godly friend.’ One is reminded of Bible verses which focus on children and their child like faith, trust, and willingness to share sacrificially.

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,  “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” (Matthew 21:15-16)

The civil war in Sierra Leone took its toll on an entire generation of children. Wikipedia explains the basics of this devastating event:

The Sierra Leone Civil War (1991–2002) began on 23 March 1991 when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), with support from the special forces of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), intervened in Sierra Leone in an attempt to overthrow the Joseph Momoh government. The resulting civil war lasted 11 years, enveloped the country, and left over 50,000 dead.

Adults were slaughtered by the tens of thousands, often in front of the children. Later, children under the age of 15 were recruited for the cause. When the war ended, tens of thousands of lost and abandoned children littered the landscape, starving, dying, and ripe for further exploitation.

In one heartbreaking scene, a Sierra Leonian child had been asked what he thought America was like. He said “I want to go there. They have their own mommies and daddies.” 

In one scene a boy said his parents were killed in front of him and the rebel commander took him ‘for his own.’ After several years of forced servitude in a rebel army, the commander was surrounded by opposing forces and he abandoned the boy. ‘I can’t keep you any more’ he said. When the battle concluded, orphaned and separated from his sister whom he did not know was alive or dead, the boy didn’t know what to do or where to go. “So I just sat down in the road,” he said.

Though life in Bed-Stuy is not as dire as it is in Sierra Leone, with starvation, exploitation, and pervasive hopelessness, life is still not easy. Violent gangs are rampant. At one point during the height of the violent era in NY, one mom said her children playing in the apartment courtyard and bullets were flying over their heads. Every time a child stepped outside there was a chance they would either be recruited by a gang or killed as a bystander in gang warfare. One piece of graffiti art depicts chalk outline of a man on a wall, his body filled with names of the killed.

The children realize they share common goals despite the vast chasm in their geography and differences in culture and circumstance. They realize they have the same desires. They want education, a fulfilling career, safety, and to love those around them. They have drive, initiative, all for making their part of the world a better place. Despite their surroundings which might defeat an adult’s outlook, these children are optimistic.

It’s a wonder to see kids like this. One begins to understand the soft place Jesus has for children. They truly are an inspiration.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4)

Watch on Hulu or free on