Film Festival Speakers
2017 Guest Speakers
DAVID MCFADZEAN - David McFadzean began his writing career as a playwright hailing from Chicago and taught theatre at Judson University. After serving as executive story editor on the premier season of "Roseanne," he co-created and produced "Home Improvement." With his Wind Dancer production company, McFadzean produced "What Women Want," starring Mel Gibson; "Where the Heart Is," starring Natalie Portman; and "Bernie," starring Jack Black among many others. His dramatic works have received productions off-Broadway and at Washington's Kennedy Center. With Daryl Roth Productions, he co-produced Mark St. Germain’s "Camping with Henry and Tom" and Kirsten Child’s "The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin." McFadzean is a founding board member of the New Harmony Writer’s Conference and is also on the Board of Directors of Act One: Writing for Hollywood and Reel Spirituality: An Institute for Moving Images.
ERIC GROTH - Eric Groth served as director of high school campus ministries at Boylan Catholic High School in Rockford, IL and coordinator of evangelization programs for Cultivation Ministries. In 2005, he founded ODB Films an award-winning not-for-profit Catholic video production ministry that helps people encounter Christ through artfully made, spiritually rich films. Over the past twelve years, ODB Films has produced 200 short films. In January 2016, ODB Films released its first feature film, "Full of Grace." The film received a Gabriel Award for "Best Family Feature" in June 2016. Currently, ODB Films is woking on a feature film on the Apostle Paul, eyeing a fall 2017 production date.
RICH PELUSO- Rich Peluso served 15 years at EMI Christian Music Group (now known as Capitol Christian/Universal Music) as the president of distribution. He was also president of The Safe Side Company, a children’s entertainment company founded by Julie Clark (Founder of The Baby Einstein Company). Peluso is currently the Executive Vice President of Sony Affirm Films focused on the development, production, acquisition and marketing of faith-based and inspirational films. He works with writers, directors, and independent producers from concept and script through production and completion, to produce quality entertainment that inspires, uplifts, and challenges. Recent films on which he has worked include "Heaven Is for Real," "Soul Surfer," "Risen," and "Moms’ Night Out."
Past Film Festival Speakers
2016 Guest Speakers
MATTHEW LUHN - Matthew Luhn is an accomplished storyteller and instructor with over 20 years experience creating stories and characters at Pixar Animation Studios. Luhn’s story credits include Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, Monsters Inc., Monsters University, Finding Nemo, UP, Cars, Ratatouille and other films currently in development. Luhn’s seminars on storytelling and creativity have been held at production companies such as Disney, BBC, Sony, Apple, Google, and other international TV and film companies. He lives with his wife and two children in the San Francisco Bay Area.”
2015 Guest Speakers
WILL BAKKE - While still in college, Will was hired by MTV to write and develop a comedy series that landed him among the "Top 25 Filmmakers on Campus," presented by MTVU. After moving on to direct two feature length documentaries “One Nation Under God” and “Beware of Christians," Will landed a worldwide distribution deal for his films, premiering in over seventeen film festivals. Some of his accolades include "Best Documentary" at the Maranatha International Film Festival, a nomination for "Best Feature Film" at the Pan Pacific Film Festival, and an official selection into the UK International Christian Film Festival and Chicago United Film Festival. His latest project is the feature film “Believe Me.”
MATTHEW BILEN - Matthew Bilen started his work with Wanderlust Productions several years ago as the shooting for “Finger of God” was about to begin. Matt did the special features for “Finger of God” and worked on almost all of film shoots for “Furious Love.” He came on full-time in June of 2010 and developed the musical and sound effects score for the cartoon called “Anointed Fighter.” He shot and composed the score for Wanderlust’s most recent production, “Father of Lights.” Currently, he teachs at Judson University and is developing his directorial debut, “HevenQuest: A Pilgrim’s Progress,” for Wanderlust Productions. Before all this, Matt was an amateur filmmaker who won an award at the Imago Film Festival with his very first film.
DOUG JONES - Doug Jones is from Indianapolis, Indiana and graduated from Ball State University in 1982 with a Bachelor's degree in Telecommunications and a minor in Theatre. He learned mime at school and also worked as a contortionist. He moved to Los Angeles in 1985 and ever since then has not been out of work. He has acted in over 50 films and television series (including the award-winning “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episode “Hush”). Although known mostly for his work under prosthetics, he has performed as “himself” in critically praised feature films such as “Adaptation” and short films such “The Butterfly Circus.” In costume, he’s most well known for his acclaimed roles as Abe Sapien in “Hellboy,” the Silver Surfer in “Fantastic Four 2,” and the Faun and the Pale Man in “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
2014 Guest Speakers
MARSHALL ALLMAN - Marshall Allman is an actor originally from Austin, Texas, who pursued his love of acting in Hollywood immediately after graduating high school. After a deeper study of acting and some work in commercials and small roles on television series, Allman was introduced to film audiences when he played opposite Bruce Willis in the action-thriller Hostage. He followed it up with a prominent television role in the hit series Prison Break and then “broke out” with a starring role on the HBO series True Blood. Other television work has included roles on Grey’s Anatomy, Mad Men, and Sons of Anarchy. Allman has also starred as the lead in the indie films The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle and Blue Like Jazz.
RON DEAN - Ron Dean is an easily recognized character actor with over thirty years of film and television roles. Versatile and multi-talented, he is often remembered for portraying characters with tough demeanors; he has skillfully played nasty villains and tough authority figures such as cops and military officials. While keeping Chicago as his home, Dean has played in many Hollywood films, working with some of the biggest actors and directors in the business. His work in film includes roles in The Breakfast Club, Cocktail, The Fugitive, Rudy, The Client, and The Dark Knight. His work in television includes roles in Frasier, ER, Chicago Hope, NYPD Blue, The West Wing, CSI, Without a Trace, Numb3rs, Cold Case, and Chicago Fire.
BRADEN HECKMAN - Braden Heckman had his start in “the business” as a film student at Judson University. When his former professor Darren Wilson founded Wanderlust Productions and released Finger of God, he hired Braden to “fix all the mistakes.” Subsequently, he was involved in just about every aspect of the next Wanderlust production, Furious Love, not excluding filming while sitting amongst cockroaches in Bangkok. He started full time at Wanderlust in January 2010 and now runs the company as CEO. To his surprise, he has developed a passion for all things business and is in the middle of completing his MBA at the University of Chicago. Braden likes to look at the big picture and has big dreams for Wanderlust as a company. Specifically, he coordinated the more-than-successful Kickstarter campaign for the upcoming Wanderlust production, Holy Ghost.
HUGH SCHULZE - Hugh Schulze was born in Detroit and studied writing at the Michigan State University and theology at the Catholic Theological Union. His short story “Nativity Scene with Action Figures” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2000 and he co-authored the non-fiction book Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness in 2005. Schulze began his life as a filmmaker in 2008 with the short film “Arc of a Bird” which won a top prize at the Imago Film Festival. He followed it with “Credits” and his first feature film Cass which has already won an Indie Spirit Special Recognition Award and Best Film at the San Diego International Black Film Festival. His script Dressing Up received the Best Feature/Comedy Award at the International Family Film Festival.
2013 GUEST Speakers
RALPH WINTER - Ralph Winter has produced blockbuster movies such as the “X-Men,” “Fantastic Four” and “Star Trek” series as well as "I, Robot" and the first remake of "Planet of the Apes." Winter has also produced ”Thr3e,” based on the book by Christian author Ted Dekker, and “Hangman's Curse” and “The Visitation,” both based on the books by Christian author Frank Peretti. He has led various projects, workshops, and classes associated with the Veracity Project, Biola University, Regent College, and Fuller Theological Seminary. Winter started working in the film business in 1978 for Paramount Pictures television, where he worked on “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” and “Mork and Mindy.” His experiences in television led to his big budget Hollywood movies, working alongside Harve Bennett on the “Star Trek” films.
DEAN BATALI - Dean Batali worked as a writer on “That 70s Show” for seven years, serving as an executive producer for the show’s final season. He wrote for the initial two seasons of “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer,” and has written for “Hope and Gloria” “The Half-Hour News Hour,” “Kick Buttowski” and “The Adventures of Pete and Pete.” Recently, he was executive producer and showrunner for two seasons of the Family Channel’s “What’s Up, Warthogs,” and he is currently head writer for the animated “Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch,” a co-production of Disney and The Hub. Dean teaches and mentors many of the writers connected with Act One, an organization that trains Christian writers and executives for careers in Hollywood. His essay “Changing the Channels” appears in the book “Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film, and Culture.”
MATT BILEN - (see 2015 SPEAKERS above)
2012 GUEST Speakers
BROOKS DOUGLAS - Brooks Douglass has had diverse careers in business, politics, the military, and filmmaking. At only 27, he was elected the youngest State Senator to serve in Oklahoma. During his 12-year tenure, he authored groundbreaking legislation in victims’ rights. After retiring from the senate, Brooks began to focus on a long-held passion for writing, acting, and creating. He co-authored and produced “Heaven’s Rain,” a film honoring his parents, Richard and Marilyn Douglass, who were tragically killed in 1979. In his film debut, Brooks played his father, a pastor, missionary, and model of forgiveness.
STEVE TAYLOR - Steve Taylor studied music, filmmaking and acting at Colorado University in Boulder, then began a career as a recording artist that spanned twelve years and garnered him two Grammy nominations for "Meltdown" (1984) and "Squint" (1993). Among his many credits as a music video director, his best-known is the Francois Truffaut homage he shot in Paris for Sixpence None The Richer's "Kiss Me." In preparation for his first movie, Taylor spent two years studying the Meisner technique under acting teacher Bill Feheely. The film that followed - "The Second Chance" - marked Taylor's debut as director/co-screenwriter. The movie was subsequently picked up for a 2006 theatrical release by Sony Pictures. Taylor's follow-up feature, "Blue Like Jazz," is an adaptation of the New York Times bestselling memoir by Donald Miller.
DARREN WILSON - Darren Wilson founded Wanderlust Productions in 2006 when he started stumbling through his first feature film, Finger of God. Later, he decided to surround himself with people who were more talented than him to help create his second feature, Furious Love, but of course he takes all the credit for their great work. Darren’s job description includes creating the stories, dealing with a variety of “interesting” reactions to Wanderlust’s films, planning all the shoots, and paying all the bills. Darren taught for 10 years at Judson University before moving into production full time.
2011 GUEST Speakers
DAVID NIXON - Originally from Sydney Australia, David Nixon has produced and directed documentaries in Russia, India, and Europe as well as commercials for Subway, Nickelodeon, and Walt Disney World. Six years ago, he was called on by Sherwood Baptist Church to help produce the wildly successful movie "Facing the Giants." By bringing together a small group of Christian technicians with the volunteer help of the entire church, Nixon was able to give the small budget project a "big screen" look. He then helped produce Sherwood's next movie "Fireproof," the number one independent movie of 2008. David Nixon's latest movie, "Letters to God," is the first of 3 films being produced by his new company, Possibility Pictures.
JEFFREY OVERSTREET - In 1996, Jeffrey Overstreet started blogging about movies, music, literature, faith, and culture and that blog would eventually become lookingcloser.org. Jeffrey's blog also led to his "memoir of dangerous moviegoing," Through a Screen Darkly (published in 2007). In 2001, Jeffrey began writing "Film Forum," a weekly column for ChristianityToday.com, examining the nature of dialogue about art in the church and popular culture. In 2009, Jeffrey brainstormed a new website with Micheal Leary called Filmwell, a place for unpredictable exploration and inquiry related to cinema. Jeffrey regularly contributes to Seattle Pacific University's Response and the Image website and had been published in Paste, Risen, Relevant, and Books & Culture. For his writing about movies, he was honored with the 2007 Spiritus Award at the City of the Angels Film Festival.
2010 GUEST Speakers
DARREN WILSON - (see 2012 SPEAKERS above)
GAYE ORTIZ - Gaye Williams Ortiz is a lecturer in communications studies and cinema at Augusta State University in Augusta, Georgia. Gaye’s areas of specialty include film and women’s studies and she teaches classes on the connections between film and religion. Her publications include the edited collection, Explorations in Theology and Film, and Theology and Film (cowritten with Christopher Deacy). In addition to exploring how film can enrich the study of theology, it suggests film can challenge the sacred/secular divide. Among many other films, Gaye is a fan of The Big Lebowski and loves to talk to others about “Dudeology.”
2009 GUEST Speakers
DAVID MCFADZEAN - (see 2017 SPEAKERS above)
J. ROBERTS PARKS - J. Roberts Parks is an adjunct faculty member at Columbia College in Chicago, where he teaches courses on media theory, film, and advertising. He has also been a film critic for Time Out Chicago, Paste Magazine, and the Hyde Park Herald. When he's not watching 250 movies a year, he works with his church's youth group, does mission work, and ponders how evangelicals can better impact our culture.
WILLIAM ROMANOWSKI - William Romanowski is professor of communication arts at Calvin College, teaching courses in film, communication, and culture studies. Romanowski is a prolific author, writing many works including Pop Culture Wars: Religion and the Role of Entertainment in American Life. Romanowski's Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture received the ECPA Gold Medallion Award and was praised as “a lively and much needed Christian perspective on the popular arts.” A three-part DVD series based on Eyes Wide Open was a 2002 Aegis Award Winner. Romanowski has also worked as a musical performer and lecturer. The program at a rock festival in England referred to him as "an all-round brainy geezer and lovely with it." He took that as a compliment.
2008 GUEST Speakers
DAVID DARK - David Dark is author of Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons, and Other Pop Culture Icons and The Gospel According To America: A Meditation On A God-Blessed, Christ-Haunted Idea, which was included in Publishers' Weekly 's top religious books of 2005. He has presented at the Cinema Studies Conference, Arkansas Literary Festival, and Festival of Faith and Music.
STEPHEN VIDANO - Stephen Vidano earned a BA in Communication from Seattle Pacific University and started his film career in post-production at Seattle Post & Post Production. Disappointed with the material he was editing, Vidano dreamed of taking the next step. Since then, Stephen has directed and shot world-class productions across the globe. He most recent finished directing the documentary Star of Bethlehem and the made-for-TV movie Tilly, written by best-selling author Frank Peretti.
2007 GUEST Speakers
ROBERT K. JOHNSTON - Robert K. Johnston is Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary and Co-Director of the Reel Spirituality Institute there. His books include Reel Spirituality, Theology and Film in Dialogue, 2nd edition (2000, 2006), Useless Beauty: Eccclesiastes through the Lens of Contemporary Film (2004), and with Catherine Barsotti, Finding God In the Movies: 33 Films of Reel Faith (2004). He is a former President of the American Theological society.
PHIL VISCHER - Phil Vischer is a writer, actor, animator, and the founder of Big Idea productions. He created Veggies Tales with Mike Nawrocki with nothing more than three interns and a computer in his spare bedroom. Although still working with Veggies Tales, he now devotes most of his time to the development of independent projects with his new creative shop, Jellyfish Studios. His account of his rollercoaster ride with Big Idea productions has just been published as Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story About God, Dreams, and Talking Vegetables (2007).
JEFF CAIN - Jeff Cain is a conceptually based artist and designer whose work with new media, sculpture, and performance has been presented at the Getty Center, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Armand Hammer Museum. He is the founder and inventor of RHZ Radio, which was nominated for the Prix Ars Electronica in 2005. Currently, he is the director/curator of the Shed Research Institute and is on staff at the University of Southern California Roski School of Fine Arts.
2006 GUEST Speakers
J. ROBERTS PARKS - (see 2009 SPEAKERS above)
MIKE HERTENSTEIN - Mike has written about film for the web and print, created and overseen film festivals and film-related conferences, and made his own films. His books include The Double Vision of Star Trek and Selling Satan: The Tragic History of Mike Warnke. He currently directs program planning for the Flickerings film festival and the Imaginarium at the annual Cornerstone Festival.
JAMES M. WALL - James M. Wall is a senior contributing editor to Christian Century Magazine, Chicago IL. He is an adjunct professor in Religion and Culture at Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, CA and a frequent ecumenical judge at film festivals at Montreal, Berlin, and Denver.