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FIRST-PERSON: Moments in Utopia

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–There are seven marvelous moments that dwell nicely in my memory from a recent visit to the set of the Robert Duvall/Lucas Black upcoming film, “Seven Days in Utopia.” Those moments have affected this man’s soul.

Set for release sometime next year, Seven Days in Utopia is based on the novel “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia” (Zondervan) by David L. Cook. The story follows Luke Chisolm (Lucas Black), a talented young golfer set on making the pro tour. But when his first big shot turns out to be a very public disaster, Luke’s dream takes a detour. Suffering from an embarrassing public meltdown, he escapes the pressures of the game, unexpectedly finding himself stranded in Utopia, Texas, home to eccentric rancher John Crawford (Robert Duvall). But John is more than meets the eye — his profound ways of looking at life enlighten Luke to question not only his past choices, but his future direction.

Members of the Christian press were invited to San Antonio, home of the imposing Alamo, some good folks, and a lot of great food, in order to see a “making of” scene for this upcoming comedy/drama. We discovered the film proposes the theory that most accidents aren’t really accidents. What’s more, amid the milieu of today’s movie bombardment, it’s a story that purports a need for a Christ-centered life.

My fond memories are in no particular order, but being a movie buff, undoubtedly standing next to Robert Duvall would be unforgettable. Production began on July 29 and I was on the set August 19, watching the 79-year-old legendary actor working from sunup to sundown, enduring temperatures resembling the surface of the sun. He has worked with everyone from Gregory Peck to John Wayne to Marlon Brando, and to boot, he’s as good an actor as anyone he ever worked with.

My merry moments began the day before as I walked up to the Alamo. Yes, it’s smaller than the one John Wayne built for his 1961 film salute, but no less majestic. I rented the audio tour box, which guided me step by step through the one-time mission. To add to the educational moment, I was there with fellow journalist “Wild Bill” Fentum.

Bill Fentum, associate editor of the United Methodist Reporter newspaper, is the gentlest of souls, a Christian man, a quiet soldier of faith. So, naturally, we fellow reporters attached him with the misnomer nickname of “Wild Bill.” Learning about the battle of the Alamo, and with a godly friend, were meaningful moments No. 2 and 3.

While there are misguided vacationers who think snowboarding or waterskiing make for great holidays, I know the truth and the truth is this: The best recreational activity consists of dining on Mexican food in San Antonio. Flavorful moment No. 4 took place at Mi Tierra Café as I cell-phoned my lady friend back in Kansas. Between bites of enchiladas verde, as mariachi players strolled by, I told her how much I wished she were here. Though that would seemingly have been the ideal, truth be told, I would have had to share a private moment with another love — sopapillas, a dessert of fluffy pastry topped with honey and powdered sugar.

Later, I met up with my colleagues in criticism on the famed River Walk and we headed out for their first, my second, meal of the night. The head of the group wanted to be adventurous with our late night repast, steering us into some kitschy restaurant that featured epicurean oddities such as trout stuffed with spare ribs. (You read right.) My friend, the aforementioned “Wild Bill,” despite the teasing, chose the trout, cementing his nickname forever.

I cherish philosophical moment No. 5, sitting in that restaurant with my Christian comrades. The conversation was Hemingway-ish, ranging from great meals to political debates to favorite movies. There was an added dimension, with Jesus being praised and centered in each of the topics. I was reminded of the necessity of daily fellowship. Each time we are with fellow believers, we are enlivened, encouraged and enriched.

Meeting the film’s author, David Cook, was enlightening moment No. 6. Verbose in his faith, gentle in demeanor, David is a man of humor and sensitivity. An author, inspirational speaker and peak performance consultant, Mr. Cook is about guiding people from success to significance. In his book/film he uses sports as an affective background for metaphor, placing Christ at the center of his teachings.

In the forward to David’s fictional novel, golfer Tom Lehman writes, “David Cook is a man of faith. He has made it perfectly clear how faith can and should interact with all areas in our life. … Although a book about golf, the strongest part of the book may be the words about forgiveness and mercy and grace.”

Amusing moment No. 7 came on the links. A famed golf pro spent an hour trying to turn each press member into a seasoned player. In my youth I had played 18 holes at the Garden of the Gods Country Club in Colorado Springs — once. As I recall, the normally four-hour game length had stretched from mid-morning into the twilight hour. That was enough. So, while my colleagues sweltered on the first tee, learning how to hold a driver, I sat it out in the air-conditioned clubhouse, partaking of chips and a generous mound of guacamole. I entertained myself by staring out the big bay window at a group of Jerry Lewises as they swung away at mostly unmolested golf balls. But when the call came for each of us to have his or her picture with Lucas Black (“Friday Night Lights,” “Get Low”), a near pro golfer himself, I rushed out, grabbed a club, unaware that it was for a left-handed player, and took a stylish pose with the young movie star. With my cocked cap and leisurely stance, you’d have thought I was Arnold Palmer.

Noticing the club, Mr. Black immediately questioned, “Oh, you’re a lefty?”

“No, I’m a phony,” I told him.

As I explained that my expertise with a club extended no further than the nonchalant camera pose, he laughed. Ever make a celebrity laugh? It’s a very satisfying moment.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective for Baptist Press and is the author of “Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad,” available on Amazon.com. He also writes about Hollywood for previewonline.org.

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  • Phil Boatwright