Movie combines features from actual cases; local talent was used in film

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By John Barnhart

    After months of work, Finding Faith premiered at Thomas Road Baptist Church Saturday night.    


    The movie combines features from real cases that the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes against Children (ICAC) Task Force has actually investigated. This group used to be called Operation Blue Ridge Thunder when it became one of the first 10 ICACs back in 1998 and operates as part of the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office.
    One of the issues the movie illustrates is how innocently a young teen can get in big trouble by not being careful with on-line activities. The main character is Faith Garrett, a 14-year-old Bedford County teen who is very active on a social networking site. One of her social network “friends” is somebody who she thinks is a 16-year-old boy who lives in Florida, who she had never met in person. This was her first big mistake because this person is actually a very nasty 30-year-old man, an Internet predator who is trolling the Web for young teenage girls.
    Faith’s second big mistake is that she posts too much information about herself and her friends. For example, a photo of herself in her cheerleader outfit allows the predator to figure out what school she goes to. Other information she posts allows him to zero in on where she lives. The information she posts on what she’s up to allows him to waylay her and kidnap her in her upscale neighborhood within walking distance of her home.
    The movie is intense and the actors are convincing to the point where the audience applauded when something very unpleasant happens to the man who kidnaped Faith.
    The movie made a great use of local talent for extras and for some roles. For example, people familiar with Little Town Players will notice Robert Carson in a brief role as an Altlantic City, New Jersey, plain clothes police officer.
    “I thought it was great from beginning to end,” Carson said. “I think it’s something that everyone must see.”
    The film provided off-camera opportunities for local people. One was Brittany Eide, a Bedford Science and Technology Center cosmetology student. She did hair, makeup and nails.
    “It was exciting,” she said. “You learn so much more.”
    She also got to work with Erik Estrada.
    “I did his makeup a couple of times,” she said
    Estrada played Sheriff Mike Brown. Estrada signed on as an official spokesman for the Safe Surfin’ foundation, some years back. Estrada had learned of what Sheriff Brown was doing to promote Internet safety and contacted the Sheriff to see what he could do to help.
    One professional actor with a major role in the film has local roots. Jamie Watson plays Sam Garrett, Faith’s father. Watson grew up in Bedford and got his start in acting with Little Town Players (LTP). Now he does it professionally.  He first learned of the film when he came back to Bedford to play a role in an LTP production of The Nerd. Karen C. Hopkins, vice president of LTP, said that this was the first time they have hired a professional actor
    Watson was interested when he learned of Finding Faith.
    “I liked [the fact] that it tells a story based on fact,” he said.
    He said it was great to be able to act in a film that will help people keep kids safe.
    “That was something I was really excited about,” he commented.
    Watson knows something about law enforcement himself. He’s a former Bedford County Sheriff’s deputy.
    Chris Casto, a retired West Virginia State Police sergeant, plays a West Virginia State Police sergeant. In the film, the predator takes Faith across the state line into West Virginia and the state police got involved, providing troopers as extras as well as uniforms and cruisers for the actors. This guarantees authenticity.
    Casto was involved with getting the West Virginia State Police’s ICAC up and running, due to a close professional relationship with Sheriff Brown. He’s excited about the movie because it gets the word out.
    “Protecting children from Internet predators makes it all worthwhile,” he said.
    Finding Faith is being distributed on DVD. The DVDs can be ordered through the Safe Surfin’  Foundation’s website at safesurfin.org. Proceeds from the film will be used to help fund efforts to protect children on the Internet. Part of the money will help the Safe Surfin’ Foundation’s education efforts. Money will also be used to provide start-up funds for small law enforcement agencies that want to start ICACs, but don’t have the money to do it. According to Robin Sundquist, administrative assistant to Sheriff Brown, Safe Surfin’ will work with the Loyal Order of Moose to provide the computer hardware and software the small law enforcement agency needs. Safe Surfin’ will arrange for the small agency to get training and certification through the national ICAC organization with trainers coming from the nearest ICAC task force.  In order for a sheriff or police chief to get this money he must agree to put at least one deputy or police officer on Internet investigation for at least 15 hours per month.
    Money from the movie will also pay for digital identification kits for elderly people and children. This allows family members to have information, including fingerprints, on a CD that they can give to law enforcement if their child or elderly relative is missing.