From the start of the first year of John-Paul Gutschke High School, he made a promise to himself: he would make a beautiful and inspiring film with the community of Christendom College in Front Royal and screen it at a local theater. It would fulfill a lifelong dream while bringing him closer to his long-term goal of being in film journalism after graduation.
Achieving the goal turned out to be an even bigger undertaking than he could have achieved. But Gutschke persevered and sold out his film last month, fulfilling a dream and inspiring his classmates in the process.
Gutschke, who majored in philosophy at Christianity, has been interested in cinema all his life. He made short films while growing up in his hometown of Washington, NJ. Upon arriving in Christendom, he decided to embark on his most ambitious endeavor yet between classes: making a feature film with Christendom students and staff.
“I had no idea how difficult it would be to coordinate the schedules of one or two people, let alone try to get 20 or 30 people together at the same time to film bigger scenes,” Gutschke said. “Yet I knew deep down that somehow we would get there and that God would help us.”
He wrote the screenplay for the film with help from classmates, settling on a story called “The Promise” involving fictional Brendan Keane’s heroic journey as a college student. Conflicted by his ambition and desire for friendship, Keane must put everything on the line when faced with a serious choice that will determine his future. In the end, Keane learns that true success comes in sacrificing himself and trusting his friends who are living witnesses of God’s love for him.
After years of preparation, Gutschke began filming the project in the spring of 2020 — only for the coronavirus pandemic to bring filming to an immediate halt. Rather than being deterred, Gutschke and his cast and crew persevered and picked up where they left off once they were able to return to campus in the fall of 2020. Upon completion of filming, more of 90 students, along with faculty, staff and an alumnus of the university, helped the project cross the finish line after years of hard work.
The film draws from Gutschke’s own experiences as a student of Christianity, with college education and culture playing a huge part in the whole project.
“The film is a witness in the form of a powerful story to what a good life is,” Gutschke said. “It is something we experience daily in Christianity, which is a community bound together by faith, friendship and the pursuit of the true, the good and the beautiful. My development and authentic upbringing in Christianity came from the knowledge and wisdom of the classroom, of the spiritual life that I seek to deepen each day, especially when I visit the chapel, and of the life of true friendship that I have been so completely blessed. here in Christendom. All of these factors formed my point of view and they provide such inspiration which then carries over to my style of storytelling.
Gutschke has spent the last few months polishing the film, including hiring a professional composer to create a full score. Finally, the promise he made to himself in his first year has come true, with ‘The Promise’ premiering at the Royal Cinemas in Front Royal on January 29-30. Even more impressively, the film nearly sold out on both showings – a testament to the unity of the Christendom community and their support for Gutschke’s vision.
“It was so surreal to have so many people attending both screenings,” Gutschke said. “When the film ended and the whole room rose to give a standing ovation, I was truly struck by how special the Christian community is. The screening of the film in the cinema was a beautiful end to an inspiring journey.
Gutshke follows in the footsteps of other alumni who pursued and entered the film industry, including 2014’s Joe Duca and 1994’s Christopher Foley.
After college, Gutschke plans to continue her filmmaking endeavors doing film journalism for LifeSiteNews and video work for the Fatima Blue Army Shrine Global Apostolate, while also working on narrative film projects. The making and premiering of “The Promise” was the first step in Gutschke’s greatest journey, yet a singular achievement in itself.
See the video
To watch the trailer, go to youtu.be/Q0i7SXVikqk.