When “This Day Forward” was filmed in Waverly, Iowa, in 2017, Dr. Jennifer Jensen had no idea how far her family’s journey with brain cancer would go.
But after initial screenings in Eastern Iowa in 2018, followed by a nationwide tour and showings in Australia, the film has just been released worldwide through various streaming platforms.
“People still reach out to me and ask how we’re doing,” said Jensen, 45, of Waverly. “And of course, now that the movie is released, everybody’s so excited.
“I still feel people praying for us. It’s really beautiful, truly beautiful to know that there were so many lives touched by this and will continue to be with the release.”
The journey began seven years ago, when Jensen’s husband, Mike, then 38, was diagnosed with brain cancer after suffering two seizures. A singer/songwriter and worship leader, he taught vocal music at their alma mater, Wartburg College, and she was — and still is — a chiropractor who operates Worldwide Wellness Center in Cedar Falls.
In an instant, their life upended, as the couple and their three young daughters struggled through his treatments.
The day before Thanksgiving in 2016, their college friend Brian Ide, a filmmaker based in Los Angeles since 1999, reached out via email to see if they would be open to sharing their story. His faith community, All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, Calif., had decided to tap into the congregation’s film industry talent to create faith-based films. Ide immediately thought of the Jensens, whose journey he had been following on Facebook.
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Jennifer said she “cried and cried and cried,” but Mike was onboard, saying: “Everything Brian Ide touches turns to gold. ... 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.”
Described as “When Faith and Fear Collide,” the 100-minute film was shot in the couple’s home and various sites around Waverly, and is told from the caregiver’s point of view. That was important to Jennifer, since the couple’s mothers helped her keep him at home those first five years. But on June 25, 2018, Mike’s mother died, and with his own health declining, he entered a Waterloo care facility one month later.
In a previous Gazette interview, Jensen said she hoped 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.”
Those hopes have been realized on the road. The national tour ran from mid-September to mid-November 2018, followed by a monthlong tour of Australia in July and August 2019.
“The only thing we knew when we started is that (the tour) was going to be 60 days,” Ide said. “When I left, I rented a big SUV, and bought a bunch of screening equipment. And then when I left the driveway from here, we had nine screenings lined up in those 60 days. The first one was in Vegas, and I was working my way to Iowa.
“But by the end of the 60 days, we ended up going to 53 cities. We drove 17,000 miles. It was a life-changing experience.”
Financed entirely by donations, and without major studio backing or marketing campaign, they decided to rely on sweat equity to present their film.
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“But literally, I think by the second screening it wasn’t about marketing anymore,” Ide said. “It had turned into a listening tour, and Jen and I just ended up telling our story — telling this story that ended up creating a space for other people to tell their stories. And then that’s what every single night turned into — the ‘For This Day Forward’ portion and then it was people sharing their most inner fears and anger and hope.”
Sometime those Q&A sessions lasted two hours.
Jensen said she’ll never grow tired of seeing the movie, and cries even more now than when it premiered in Los Angeles in November 2017.
“For me, it represents all of the thousands of people around this world that I have connected with personally,” she said. “So I think it’s not just my story, it’s their story, as well. And so I connect probably more deeply now because I’ve seen all of these people. I see their faces. I hear their stories.”
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How to watch
• What: “This Day Forward”
• Where: Rent or buy at thisdayforwardmovie.com/rent-buy
• Details: thisdayforwardmovie.com
• To donate: All funds raised will be divided evenly between the Jensen family and All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, Calif.; go to Thisdayforwardmovie.com/donate