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Hollywood Comes to HUH to Film New Movie

By Kiara Walker

Lawrence Hilton Jacobs and Vernee Watson have known each other since they performed in the television hit series “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

WASHINGTON -- Hollywood came to Howard University Hospital as film and television stars Lawrence Hilton Jacobs and Vernee’ Watson took over part of the hospital for an afternoon to film a new faith-based movie, “Nocturnal Agony,” the story of a young woman’s triumph over adversity.

The movie tells the story of Patty, who overcomes a drug addition to finish college. Patty goes on to marry and have an upper-middle class life, but only to relapse into addiction.  There are some surprises in the film, as well as redemption.

“It shows how we all have skeletons in our closet, but through faith, anything is possible,” Watson said.

Jacobs, who has toured the country in faith-based plays, said this film is one that people can relate to without being beaten over the head with the message.

“It really shows the emotion that people experience in situations, without being preachy.” Jacobs said.  “Sometimes the faith-based plays are a little over the top in that regard.”

Watson, who has appeared in hundreds of television commercials, and appeared in movies and numerous television shows, plays Lois Helms, Patty’s mother.  Probably best known as Will Smith’s mother in “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” when not acting, she teaches acting, writes and directs shows and writes books and makes DVDs for children.

Jacobs, who is probably best known as Joe Jackson in “The Jacksons: An American Dream,” the movie “Cooley High” and the television series “Welcome Back, Kotter,” and Watson are expected to help bring their star power to the film to bring in more viewers.

“When you have a history, a body of work, that helps,” he said.  “Fortunately, that never really dissipates, and that becomes an asset.”

While few of the cast and crew live in the Washington area, they have a dizzying number of ties to Howard University Hospital, Howard University, and Washington D.C.

For instance, Shuaib Mitchell, the film’s producer, director and screenwriter, is a graduate of Howard University, as are the first director, the director of photography and the co-producer.

Los Angeles-based Watson’s nephew and niece are graduates of Howard and her grandson was born in Howard University Hospital on Christmas day in 2008.   Deidre LaWan Starnes plays the lead character, Patty.  Starnes was born in Freedmen’s Hospital, now Howard University Hospital.

Annette James, who plays Patty’s best friend, is also a graduate of Howard, a former Prince George’s County police officer and is married to Chief Leroy James, head of the Department of Safety at Howard University.

Rae’Ven Larrymore Kelly, who played the young Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” the young rape victim in “A Time To Kill” and has appeared in numerous television roles, now lives in Los Angeles, but she was born in Fairfax, Va.

The crew has been filming in and around Washington for the past two weeks.  Aside from the hospital, they have filmed from a home in Fairfax, Va., and locations in Prince George’s County.

Cynthia Livingston, left, director of Community Affairs, and Katie Jeffries, food service worker, were among the many hospital employees who visited the set to meet Jacobs and other cast members.


“Nocturnal Agony” is the second commercial release for Mitchell, a 1985 graduate in film and production.  His first film, “Too Saved,” was also faith-based.  

It is out on DVD and has done well for an extremely low-budget film.

“We’ve paid off our investors and everybody made money,” said Mitchell, who spent $15,000 on the production and shot it in four days.  “I say this film is low budget; that was no budget,”

“Too Saved” also won the best film category at the Kingdomwood Christian Film Festival in Atlanta.

Starnes, who has been seen in numerous plays around D.C., said that through this new film, she wants people to realize that they don’t have to be ashamed of making a mistake.

“I want them to see that the Christian life isn’t always a perfect life, but that it’s filled with victories and overcoming” says Starnes.


   
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