Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. stars in a new Hallmark Hall of Fame film, Firelight, premiering Sunday, April 22 at 9:00 pm ET/PT on the ABC Television Network. Darnell Martin (Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Lost Valentine) directs from a script by Ligiah Villalobos (Under the Same Moon).
Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Dwayne Johnson (‘DJ’), a counselor at a youth correctional facility. The incarcerated girls and young women come from troubled — often violent — backgrounds. Many of them belong to gangs and have been involved with illegal drugs – as users and/or dealers. In the words of DJ, ‘They come in [here] so broken…These are girls who’ve been abused and objectified their whole lives.’
Salvation for many of the young women comes when they join an elite band of volunteers who battle forest fires, build hiking trails in remote areas and assist during natural disasters. The volunteers have to survive several weeks of rigorous training, they have to be in peak physical condition and have to learn how to work as a team, often in life-threatening situations.
DJ explains that he developed the volunteer force ‘because I wanted to change the way these girls see themselves. To feel strong. To see other people respecting their strength.’ In the words of Cuba Gooding Jr., ‘These women fought to save lives. They ended up saving their own.’
The team leader is Terry Easle, played by DeWanda Wise. Keisha Daniels (Yakina Horn) is another key member. Both are hoping Caroline Magabo (Q’Orianka Kilcher) will join the elite group, although she has considerable hurdles to overcome; she has a propensity for getting into trouble, which for a long time precludes her signing up.
Cuba Gooding Jr.’s currently stars in George Lucas’ Red Tails, which tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II.
Brent Shields (Hallmark Hall of Fame’s A Smile as Big as the Moon), Alicia Keys (The Nanny Diaries, The Secret Life of Bees) and Mary Martin (Fair City) are executive producers of Firelight. David A. Rosemont (Hallmark Hall of Fame’s November Christmas) serves as producer. The film is from Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions.
John Corbett (‘Sex and the City,’ Hallmark Hall of Fame movie November Christmas) stars in the inspiring story of a high school football coach and special-education teacher who worked to achieve an impossible dream — to take a class of special-education students to NASA’s Space Camp — in the new Hallmark Hall of Fame film, A Smile as Big as the Moon, premiering Sunday, January 29 at 9 pm ET/PT on the ABC Television Network. The movie is based on the memoir of the same title, written by teacher Mike Kersjes with Joe Layden.
Space Camp is a competitive education program at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Even though it’s designed for gifted science students, Mike, a special education teacher and football coach at a Michigan high school, decides participating in the science program would do wonders for the self-esteem of his students – especially Ben (Peter ten Brink), a boy with Down syndrome who dreams of becoming an astronaut.
Aided by fellow teacher Robynn McKinney (Jessy Schram), Mike faces incredible obstacles in trying to make his dream become reality. School administrators oppose the plan as being too expensive, and Space Camp officials (led by Dr. Deborah Barnhart, played by Cynthia Watros) are skeptical… They’ve never had special-ed kids apply before.
At long last, Mike and his students are given the green light. And then the real challenges begin, over nine months of rigorous teaching, learning, training and fund-raising. The kids are belittled and, in some cases, bullied by their fellow classmates, but Mike finds a way to keep them on track. He even convinces the school’s football team, his other students, to help them prepare for the intense physical challenges of Space Camp. The class finally leaves for Huntsville, Alabama. Will kids with Down syndrome, Tourette’s, learning disabilities and emotional problems be able to leave their baggage behind, coalesce into a team and compete with some of the brightest students from across the country?
In the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, many of the special-ed students were played by young actors who are, indeed, ‘special,’ with Down syndrome, autism and learning disabilities. The film was shot in Wilmington, NC and at NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.
THE CAST: John Corbett as Mike Kersjes, Jessy Schram as Robynn McKinney, Cynthia Watros as Dr. Deborah Barnhart, Logan Huffman as Scott Goudy, Keson Loder as Lewis, Breezy Eslin as Stephanie, Peter ten Brink as Ben, Abigale Corrigan as Lisa, David Lambert as Steve, Jimmy Bellinger as Mattie, Tyrin Niles as Jamal, Tanner Dow as Adam, E. Roger Mitchell as Tom Keller, Keith Flippen as Dennis, Moira Kelly as Darcy, Mike Pniewski as Big Dan, Cameron Deane Steward as Josh Morgan, Mcsen Lintz as Ryan Kersjes, Mathew Lintz as Shawn Kerjes and Louise Linton as Julie.
A Smile as Big as the Moon was directed by James Sadwith (“Elvis,” “Life Is Wild”). The executive producers are Brent Shields (“Beyond the Blackboard,” “The Lost Valentine”) and Dan Paulson (“Saving Jessica Lynch,” “Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Pictures of Hollis Woods”). The script is by Tom Rickman (“Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Front of the Class”). Mike Kersjes served as technical advisor on the film.