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The Independent Critic

Seth Packard, John Cannon, Dayne Rockwood, Adam Daveline
Jed Wells
Nathan Keonaona Chai
95 Mins.
Campus Studios

 "Fire Creek" Review 
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I have a dilemma.

If I bash "Fire Creek," the debut feature film from Brigham Young University undergraduate student Jed Wells, I will likely be accused of being meanspirited, unsupportive to beginning filmmakers and not nearly as supportive of low-budget, indie flicks as I often proclaim.

On the other hand, if I highly praise "Fire Creek," a film involving numerous BYU students and grads, I will be, quite honestly, setting a fairly modest benchmark for future productions.

The simple reality is that "Fire Creek" is a promising "work in progress" by a young filmmaker, starring a young, talented actor named Seth Packard who is also being seen this year in the much more effective low-budget "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake." "Fire Creek" has the look, feel and dialogue of the kind of low-budget, preachy Christian films that most secular audiences hate and point to when they try to explain why they don't enjoy Christian cinema.

However, if one were to look at two Christian films with the exact same budget, this film and "Facing the Giants," the glaring differences between this amateur, student-directed film and that other more successful, widely released and profitable film would be obvious and plentiful.

"Fire Creek" is the story of Jason Malek (Seth Packard), a young man who returns from the war in Afghanistan questioning why a God he didn't even believe in saved him during an attack that killed his best friend, a faithful man of God. He believes there must be a purpose for his survival, but he is isolated, bitter and confused. His girlfriend, Allison (Melinda Lockwood), and Mother (Kim Abunuwara) attempt to reach him with no success.

It is a most unexpected friendship with a young neighborhood teen, Lou (Dayne Rockwood), that brings Jason out of his shell and back into life. Lou's father (Paul Cannon) is dying, and they all share an unexpected common bond from a tragic event of years ago.

As a first-time director, Jed Wells shows promise in his ability to successfully build and bridge relationships between characters and his trust of silence throughout the film. However, "Fire Creek" is plagued by distracting technical issues that mute the impact of the storyline's inherent drama. Camera work is shaky and, at times, even changes focus mid-shot, while it also violates one of the very basic tenets of successful not shoot into the sun. Several shots are blurry or significantly hindered by being overly bright. Wells shot the film on a $100,000 budget, but would do well to watch Alyson Shelton's even lower budget "Eve of Understanding" for a prime example of how to effectively use nature's unpredictable lighting.

Seth Packard again offers a performance of great promise, though he felt a tad unconvincing as an actual soldier. His scenes with Lou, in particular, were remarkably touching. Clearly, this is an actor worth watching.

In supporting roles, Rockwood also shows tremendous promise and is utterly heartbreaking as he becomes increasingly aware of his father's sickness. His scenes reading the Bible to his father during his "attacks" are beautiful father/son moments seldom captured onscreen. Though given less to do by Nathan Keonaona Chai's script, John Cannon performs well as Lou's father. Lockwood and Abunuwara, too, offer fine performances in supporting roles.

It is worth noting that Adam Daveline, as Jason's best friend Rooster, nearly steals the film with an energetic, fun and sincere performance that makes me wonder if this wouldn't have been an incredibly entertaining buddy flick between Packard and Daveline.

The script for "Fire Creek" is a fairly textbook script for a Christian family drama, however, it is worth noting for families that some of the scenes of Lou's father as he becomes sicker may be too intense for young children.

Being labeled a "student directed feature," it is very likely that touch-ups will be done to "Fire Creek" based upon the feedback received from its world premiere at the 2006 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. It is likely to play well on the typical LDS film circuit, though I did find myself intrigued that a film featuring BYU students and largely presented by BYU would, in fact, largely feature a Bible rather than the usual Book of Mormon. Perhaps this is a sign that the filmmakers intend to market to a more general Christian audience rather than the built-in Mormon film audience.

Regardless, I come back to my dilemma. Truthfully, I haven't the heart to be overly critical of a film from a new, quite young filmmaker who does, in fact, show great promise. Likewise, I simply cannot be unfaithful to my responsibilities as a film critic. The end result, for me, is to rate "Fire Creek" as a slightly below average film from a filmmaker, cast and crew with above average promise. "Fire Creek" is a solid first effort with many strong's hoping they learn from this effort and continue to grow as actors, writers and and directors.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic