NEW YORK (ABP) — A filmmaker promoting a movie based on his family's tragedy explained on national television March 25 how he not only could believe in a God that would allow his parents to be murdered and his family torn apart but years later come to forgive their killer.
"They are intertwined I think," Brooks Douglass, producer and co-writer of Heaven's Rain responded when asked the question on ABC's The View .
"At the end of the day, I wouldn't be able to forgive except for my faith and what I learned from my parents," he said. "On the other hand, there's been many, many times that I felt anger toward God, and not especially for what happened to us, but my mom and dad were 43 and 36 and really had lived a very great life."
The former Oklahoma state senator who now lives in California and works as a screenwriter said he decided to make a film about one of the most heinous crimes in Oklahoma memory as a tribute to his parents.
On Oct. 13, 1979, two men invaded the home of Richard Douglass, pastor of Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. They bound the pastor, his wife, Marilyn, and 16-year-old Brooks on their living room floor. After taking turns raping Brooks'12-year-old sister, Leslie, and gathering about $40 in cash, they tied her also and shot all four family members, leaving them to die. Brooks and Leslie survived, but their parents did not.
Douglass said he had been approached about making the story into a movie, but it was always with the intention of presenting it as a crime story. He wanted it to be a story about his family, who prior to moving to Oklahoma served as Southern Baptist missionaries in Brazil.
Douglass said it wasn't until after it was decided that he would play the role of his father that it dawned on him it would involve one of the hardest things he has ever done, re-enacting his parents' murders.
"I know this sounds really strange, but I didn't think about that scene, because when I think about him, when I wrote it, I think of him alive, throwing a football and riding in the car and watching him preach," Douglass said. "It wasn't until I started working with a coach to prepare for the scene and he said, 'This is kind of a high-wire act; I don't know if this has ever been done before,' and I went, 'Oh, wow, yeah, I've got to play that scene.'"
Interviewed alongside her brother, Leslie Douglass recalled disbelief on hearing about the idea.
"I thought, 'Oh gosh, this is another one of Brooks' projects.' I think I just kind of sat back and thought how hard it would be for me to play my mother and how difficult that was for Brooks, to play my dad, and what an excellent job he's done with that. I'm proud of him."
The movie's most memorable scene relives a tour of a state prison in 1995, when then-Sen. Brooks Douglass met with Glenn Ake, one of two men convicted in his parents' murders, who had converted to Christianity and asked and received forgiveness from Brooks.
Asked if she had also forgiven the murderers, Leslie said: "I think in ourselves we have to forgive. It's hard to go on, and if you don't you live angry. I see so many kids and adults that have so much hatred — and it's like: 'Who is it they haven't forgiven? What is the grudge they are holding on to?' I always think if I forgive this, I can forgive anything. I have children, I have a lot of love to give, and that's where I need to focus on and not regrets and not guilt and hate."
Leslie said she wasn't on the set for the filming of the scene re-enacting the crime, but she and her brother talked at length that morning. "I said I'm glad it's you and not me," she told him. "I just don't think I could have done it. It's too much to go back."
Brooks said he worked with Mike Vogel, the actor who plays him as a teenager and young adult in the film, about details of the crime, but one thing happened during filming that took everyone by surprise.
"One moment that was really bizarre as we were shooting was that I never told him that I really did kiss my dad on the forehead," Douglass recalled. "And then when we were on the floor and we were shooting the scene, he moved over and he kissed me on the forehead."
"It literally just took the breath away from everybody on the crew, everybody that was there, including me," Douglass said. "But it worked out since I was supposed to be dying. It really was a tough, tough moment, but it was amazing."
Filmed on a low budget drawn largely from Douglass' own money and a few investors who knew about his story, Heaven's Rain has been shown mostly in theaters in Oklahoma since its Hollywood premiere last Sept. 9. Now it is starting to make its away across the country in theaters and in screenings hosted by groups including local churches.
The movie will premiere in Nashville, Tenn., April 5, with a free showing open to the public at Friendship Baptist Church beginning at 6 p.m.
Council Road Baptist Church in Bethany, Okla., will show the film Sunday, March 27. Other future dates include Baylor University in Waco, Texas, April 11, and Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., April 13. Other cities on the docket include Orlando, Fla.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Sacramento, Calif.
Show times and locations are available on the Heaven's Rain website, along with information about how churches can host a showing in their community.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.