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Newton’s Grace set for release

John Spyder Macdonald plays the part of Captain Phelps in a recently released movie “Newton’s Grace.” The Canadian premiere of the film will be held at the deCoste Centre in Pictou on May 13.
John Spyder Macdonald plays the part of Captain Phelps in a recently released movie “Newton’s Grace.” The Canadian premiere of the film will be held at the deCoste Centre in Pictou on May 13.

For a week John Spyder Macdonald lived the life of a movie star.

While he portrayed a sea captain hated by his crew while the cameras were rolling, in between scenes, Macdonald said he was treated like royalty.

While he portrayed a sea captain hated by his crew while the cameras were rolling, in between scenes, Macdonald said he was treated like royalty.

Throughout the week he heard orders around him: “Go get Spyder some water.” “Go get Spyder an umbrella.” “No, that seat is reserved for Spyder.”

In a movie, filmed partly in Pictou aboard the Ship Hector back in 2013 and partly in North Carolina, Macdonald plays the part of Captain Phelps.

“I was actually the character who sold John Newton into servitude to a slave trader in Sierra Leone in Africa.” Macdonald said.

Macdonald was recommended as a potential actor when portions of the film were shot in Pictou.

The movie tells about the life of John Newton, writer of the famous hymn “Amazing Grace.” The film will premiere on May 13 at the deCoste Centre in Pictou.

The Ship Hector figures prominently in the movie and is the reason portions were shot in the area. Director John Jackman said they were in need of a tall ship to shoot the at-sea parts of the film and ended up working out an arrangement with the Hector Quay Society.

Jackman said he had previously done a film about John Wesley where the ship portions were staged. He said those scenes never seemed realistic to him and he vowed that the next time he shot a film on a ship it would be a real one. The Ship Hector worked perfectly for what he wanted.

Macdonald was pleased to have been chosen for his part and enjoyed being flown down for scenes in North Carolina.

“It was a really unique experience to be involved in a full-length movie like that,” he said.

He had previous experience doing short TV movies, but said this was a different experience.

“It was interesting to see how they piece everything together.”

He said the scenes aren’t shot in sequence when they’re filming, but are all put together afterward.

The special effects are also interesting. There was one scene they did on the beach in North Carolina (which was portraying a beach in Africa) where they weren’t allowed to have a real fire.

“They had to have special effects to make it look like a fire,” he said.

Macdonald’s brother Alastair also contributed to the film, writing wrote a song that sailors sang to mock Captain Phelps.

In the movie Captain Phelps attributes the song to Newton and is angered. It’s then that Phelps decides to get revenge on Newton.

Speaking by phone, Jackman said the film took longer to be released than they had expected when filming in Pictou in 2013, but he said they’re pleased with the final product and initial reaction has been positive. They’ve already receiving attention and nominations from Christian film festivals in the United States and are hoping for positive public response when they publicly launch the film in North Carolina and then in Pictou on May 13.

Jackman said the crew enjoyed their time in Nova Scotia in 2013 and are looking forward to returning.

“I hope we’ll get lots of locals to show up for the premiere,” he said.

Jackman said the people of Pictou County were great to work with and it was interesting to see that the community had such an active local theatre group.

He said Macdonald in particular did a great job playing a corrupt captain.

Jackman hopes when people leave the movie they will have a greater understanding of the life of John Newton that will add richness to the history.

“We’re telling a really remarkable story that a lot of people don’t know. John Newton went from being a rebel and a slave himself to becoming the lead in the anti-slavery movement in England.

Anne Emmett was a part of the Hector Quay Society when the film was shot in Pictou in 2013 and said she will definitely go see the movie.

“I was down there day and night for the filming,” she said. “I’m anxious to see it.”

The whole film experience was a positive one for the town she said.

“It was very exciting and very amazing to see the ship being transformed to what it was,” she said.

Barry Randle played an extra in the film and said he made it into a part of the movie’s trailer.

He jokes that he’ll be looking forward to the red carpet and limo ride the night of the release.

The film crew was a great bunch of people, he said.

“It was a really neat experience,” he said. “I’ve never done film before so it was really neat to see it from that side of the camera.”

Everything is staged for the film.

“There’s this incredible scene where they recreate this storm on board the Hector. There were people spraying hoses and clapping boards. It was fun to watch.”

Randle believes that there’s a lot of potential in the area for more films like this.

“They didn’t just film on the Ship Hector, they filmed up and down Water Street using the historic buildings,” he said. “There’s a lot of potential in Pictou for being a film set and doing more of that stuff.”

 

 

Newton’s Grace

About the film: A troubled young man, John Newton was actually sold into slavery for a time, and later became a slave ship captain. Following a profound conversion experience at sea, his spiritual growth led him to become a pastor in the Church of England; he would write many hymns, including the beloved Amazing Grace, and become a leader in the movement to abolish the slave trade.

Produced by: Comenius Foundation and the Christian History Institute have worked with Inspirata Fims to create this film.

Local showing: May 13 at the deCoste Centre in Pictou. Ticket information TBA.

 

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