Jennifer Jensen cried when a college friend suggested sharing on film her family’s ongoing journey with her husband’s brain cancer, diagnosed five years ago after he suffered two seizures at age 38.
She expects to be emotional again when “This Day Forward” premieres Friday night in the couple’s hometown of Independence, where their love story began in high school.
“I wish we never had anything to write a movie about,” said Jensen, 43, now of Waverly, a chiropractor who operates Worldwide Wellness Center in Cedar Falls.
The 100-minute film, however, could reach worldwide audiences. Director Brian Ide of Los Angeles said it’s being pitched this week to Sony Picture’s faith-based branch, Affirm Films.
“It’s the largest in the industry,” Ide, 43, said by phone from L.A., where “This Day Forward” premiered in November.
In January, the film opened at the Waverly Palace Theatre, where it’s still playing.
Ide became friends with Mike and Jennifer Jensen in the 1990s, during their Wartburg College studies in Waverly. The film was shot in its entirety there, on what Ide calls a “micro-budget,” boosted by in-kind donations of food, lodging, time and talent from the crew and about 200 actors and extras.
A screening also is in the works for Dubuque, where Ide went to high school and fell in love with cinema while working at a movie theater.
Proceeds are being divided between the Jensen family and Ide’s church in California.
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Two years ago, All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, Calif., decided to tap into the congregation’s film industry talent to create a short faith-based film. Encouraged by the response to that, the church decided to “take a stab at the next size up,” Ide said, and produce a feature-length film.
Ide thought of the Jensens, whose ordeal he had been following on Facebook. “I had seen them periodically at reunions, and I was struck by the grace and strength that they work to live their lives by. I told our group back in Los Angeles, ‘I think this is our story.’
“I reached out to the Jensen family, to (Jennifer), almost exactly a year ago, out of the blue ... to see if she was open to sharing her story. We had a long, honest, emotional conversation about that,” he said.
“I cried and cried and cried,” Jennifer Jensen said of receiving the initial email the day before Thanksgiving 2016. “I thought, ‘Gosh, why would they ever want to tell our story — what’s unique about that?’ I told Mike about it, and he said, ‘Everything Brian Ide touches turns to gold,’ and it always has. He said, ‘Anything that Brian Ide would want to do, it’s going to be blessed, and absolutely, I would love to be part of anything Brian Ide does.’”
The couple met with Ide and scriptwriter Nick Schober, and were involved in the screenplay’s development, reading and approving the script.
From the end of April through May last year, the Jensen home turned into a movie set. Other scenes were filmed around Waverly, the Wartburg campus where Mike Jensen taught vocal music before his illness, and the chapel where the couple married in 1996.
Two of their daughters — Allie, 16, and Naomi, 10 — played themselves in the film. Actress Hayden Wyatt was hired to play Jennifer Jensen, but Jensen had a small role in the film as well. Actress Kallen Blair was hired to play oldest daughter Aria, now 18 and a college student in the Quad Cities.
“It’s one of the lead roles,” Jennifer Jensen said. “Brian was pushing that actress to the limits emotionally. He couldn’t do that to Aria — she lived it, and he couldn’t have her relive it.”
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Actor Randy Coleman portrayed Mike Jensen, now 44, who besides teaching first at Central City then later at Wartburg was a church worship leader and songwriter before his illness.
The movie captures her husband “exactly as he is,” Jennifer Jensen said. “He’s steady and emotionally unchanged. His faith has always been easy for him.”
She, on the other hand, gets “tired and frustrated,” and said she and her husband “spend a lot of time apologizing to each other.”
That’s a point of view she’s glad to see on-screen. Through five years of her husband’s surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation in Cedar Rapids, as well as her exhaustive research into the latest therapies, she’s been stretched thin juggling work with her roles as caregiver, patient advocate, wife and mother.
Mike Jensen needs full-time care now and she’s grateful their mothers can help during the week. “I feel like I live in their house,” she said. “I don’t know what we would do without them.”
She said she hopes the movie “helps caregivers feel better understood.”
“I hope that people, whatever their struggle is — addiction or loss of a job or loss of a marriage — feel less alone, and see that their faith can prevail in that struggle,” she said.
If you go
• What: “This Day Forward”
• Where: Starlight Cinema, 2401 Swan Lake Blvd., Independence
• When: 7 and 9 p.m. Friday; 2, 4:30, 7, 9:15 p.m. Saturday; 2, 4:30, 7 p.m. Sunday; 7 p.m. Wednesday and Feb. 15
• Opening: Jensen family benefit, 7 p.m. Friday, $5, red carpet festivities, meet the family and filmmakers, photo ops, Q&A afterward
• Regular prices: $5 weekdays and matinees, $7 after 6 p.m. Friday to Sunday
• Online: www.independencestarlight.com and www.facebook.com/thisdayforwardmovie/
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