Film Reviews: Wednesday, August 31, 2005
The 17-Year-Old Virgin

A local filmmaker goes national with his Christian drama Echoes of Innocence.


Fort Worth native Nathan Todd Sims always dreamed of doing movies, he said, “but growing up in Weatherford, it never seemed like a real possibility.”

Boy, how times have changed. On Friday, Sept. 9, Sims’ independent film Echoes of Innocence will be released nationally in movie theaters, including three in Tarrant County. The film’s North Texas locations include Grapevine’s Faith Christian School.

The 37-year-old Sims, who prefers to be called by his middle name, double-majored in theater and television at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, then received an M.A. in film production at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., where he formed his production company, New World Pictures, with his wife Gina Sims and Regent classmate Clayton Coblentz. Unable to obtain financing for any of their projects fresh out of school, Sims and his wife turned to producing corporate videos (many of them for NASA), while Coblentz went into media management. Their day jobs essentially funded Echoes of Innocence, and Sims described Coblentz’ expertise as invaluable to his first filmmaking effort. “The magnitude of the business side of filmmaking didn’t hit me until we got started. Clayton came in and gave us ... contingency plans for everything.”

The idea for the film occurred to Sims randomly, while driving on I-45 in Houston. “I’ve always been fascinated by people of faith,” he said, “both biblical characters and people willing to move out on their dreams and stand up for what they believe in.” His modern-day Joan of Arc story took shape. After a great deal of research on the historical Joan, he finished the script in early 2002. Even though CBS announced its new fall drama Joan of Arcadia while the film was in preproduction in summer 2003, the movie went along as planned. “It’s the same basic premise,” Sims admitted, noting that both revolve around contemporary high-school girls, “but the story is really different.”

Sara Simmonds portrays a student named Sarah who’s nicknamed “The Virge” by her classmates because she refuses to date anyone, a plausible result of a troubled home life that includes being raised by a single alcoholic mother. Led by religious visions and voices, Sarah winds up at the center of a thriller plot involving a menacing, violent student (Matt Vodvarka) and a nerdy reporter for the school paper (Jake McDorman).

The movie is being marketed to a Christian audience, though Sims has found that among the mostly positive responses he has received from Christian viewers, some thought the film was too dark. “Some people see the film and think I’m Catholic,” he noted with some puzzlement. He described his own religious beliefs as nondenominational and his movie’s message as “a bit more conservative than what Hollywood puts out.” However, he was adamant that he wanted his film to be seen as entertainment first — but he’s fine with people reading a religious message into it as well. Someone out there finds it entertaining — his film recently screened at WorldFest in Houston and won the Buzz of the Festival Award in a field of 550 movies.

Sims’ busy life only figures to become busier. Besides planning for the movie’s theatrical release and his next project (he wants to do a more family-friendly piece), he’s also taking on the duties of president of the Dallas Producers Association, a post he was elected to last January. “We need to educate businesses and government entities on the advantages of feature film shooting,” he said. “In certain places, like L.A., people know what to expect when a film crew shows up. In the Dallas area, people mostly don’t know.” If the film is a success, it’ll surely help his efforts.

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