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From the very beginning of senior John-Paul Gutschke’s freshman year, he made a promise to himself: he would make a beautiful and inspiring film with the Christendom community and have it shown in a local theater. Doing so would fulfill a lifelong dream while also pushing him closer to his long-term goal of being in film journalism after graduation — but accomplishing the goal turned out to be an even bigger endeavor than he could have realized. Nevertheless, Gutschke persevered and premiered his movie to sold out audiences this past month, realizing a dream and inspiring his fellow classmates in the process.

Gutschke, who is majoring in philosophy at Christendom, has been interested in film his entire life, making short films while growing up in his hometown of Washington, New Jersey. Upon arriving at Christendom, he decided to take on his most ambitious undertaking yet in between classes: make a feature-length film with Christendom students and staff.

“Little did I know how challenging it would be to coordinate just one- or two-people’s schedules, let alone trying to bring 20 or 30 individuals together at one time to film for some larger scenes,” recalls Gutschke. “Yet, I knew deep down that somehow, some way we would get it done and that God would help us.”

Gutschke wrote the screenplay for the movie himself with the help of classmates, settling on a story titled “The Promise” involving the fictional Brendan Keane’s heroic journey as a college student. Conflicted by his ambition and desire for friendship, Keane must put it all on the line when he is faced with a serious choice that will determine his future. Ultimately, Keane learns that true success is about sacrificing for and trusting his friends who are the living witness of God’s loving care for him.

After years of preparation, Gutschke began filming the project in the spring of 2020 — only for the coronavirus pandemic to put an immediate halt to filming. Rather than be deterred, Gutschke and his cast and crew persevered and picked up right where they left off once they were able to return to campus in the fall of 2020. By the end of the film shoot, over 90 students, along with faculty, staff, and one college alumnus, helped with the project, helping bring it across the finish line after years of work.

Gutschke (far right) with members of his cast and crew for "The Promise."

Gutschke (far right) with members of his cast and crew for “The Promise.”

The film draws upon Gutschke’s own experiences as a Christendom student, with the education and culture of the college playing a huge role in the entire project.

“The film is a witness in the form of a powerful story to what a beautiful life is,” says Gutschke. “This is something we experience daily at Christendom, which is a community bound together by faith, friendship, and pursuit of the true, good, and beautiful. My development and authentic education at Christendom has come from the knowledge and wisdom of the classroom, the spiritual life I seek to deepen each day especially when I visit the chapel, and from the living out of true friendship that I have been so completely blessed to have experienced here at Christendom. All these factors have formed my perspective and they provide such inspiration which then flows into my style of storytelling.”

Gutschke spent the last few months putting the finishing touches on the film, including hiring a professional composer to create a full score for the film. Finally, the promise he made to himself freshman year came true, with “The Promise” premiering at Front Royal’s Royal Cinemas on January 29 and 30. Even more impressively, the movie nearly sold out both showings — a testament to the unity of the Christendom community and their support of Gutschke’s vision.

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“It was so surreal having so many people attend both showings,” concludes Gutschke. “When the film ended and the whole room stood up to give a standing ovation, it really struck me how special the Christendom community is. Showing the film in the theater was a beautiful ending to an inspiring journey.”

Gutshke follows in the footsteps of other alumni who have pursued and gone into the film industry, including Joe Duca (’14) and Christopher Foley (’94).

After college, Gutschke plans to continue his filmmaking endeavors doing film journalism for LifeSiteNews and video work for World Apostolate of Fatima Blue Army Shrine, while also working on futher narrative film projects. The making and premiere of “The Promise” was just the first step in Gutschke’s larger journey, but a singular accomplishment in and of itself.

Watch the trailer for Gutschke’s film here.

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