There is more to a good story than a two-minute trailer.
Although filmmaker T.C. Christensen's new movie, "Love, Kennedy," depict scenes of sadness, a family's struggles and a young girl's death in its first trailer, Christensen wants audiences to know there's much more to the story.
"I'm afraid people may think, because this girl gets a rare disease and dies that it's just a sappy, sad, drag-you-down-in-the-depths kind of film. I wouldn't make a film like that," Christensen said.
"(The story) does have (sad elements), and we tell that story, but the truth is her death happens at the end of the second act, and there is a third act that goes on and gives purpose to her life. ... This film has a ton of redemption. By the end, there are so many insights that show there's a plan, not just in her life, but in our lives as well."
"Love, Kennedy" tells the true story of Kennedy Hansen, a friendly and fun-loving teenage girl from West Haven who died of Juvenile Batten Disease in May 2014.
Christensen ("17 Miracles," "The Cokeville Miracle") wrote, produced and directed the film, which was made in cooperation with Kennedy's family and friends. The movie debuts in theaters June 2. A second trailer was released Monday, May 1.
"We really try to tell a true story," Christensen said. "We filmed in the Hansen home, and we filmed at Fremont High School, surrounding her with people who know her and loved her."
Kennedy was a vibrant youth until the last years of her life, when Batten Disease diminished her cognitive abilities, motor skills and eyesight, while also causing seizures and nightmares. She dreamed of being a cheerleader at Fremont High School. Despite her declining health, Kennedy continued to communicate her love to others through heartfelt hugs. Her family was sustained during that difficult period with community support, prayers and their LDS faith, according to a 2014 Deseret News article.
Two actors share the role of Kennedy: Scarlett Hazen is young Kennedy, and Tatum Chiniquy, of Provo, is older Kennedy. Heather Beers, known for her role in "Charly," plays Heather Hansen, Kennedy's mother. Jasen Wade, who held lead roles for Christensen in "17 Miracles" and "The Cokeville Miracle," is Jason Hansen, Kennedy's father.
"Jasen and Heather are playing Jason and Heather," Christensen said with a grin. "I bet that has never happened in the history of the world."
Beers has never played a role based on a true story but felt an instant connection with Heather Hansen and the family. Beers felt an added responsibility to be as true as possible to the Hansens' story, she said.
"There were some gripping moments," Beers said. "We filmed a couple of scenes where Kennedy is having a seizure. In my role as Heather, I would comfort her, then look beyond the camera and see the Hansens with tear-filled eyes, reliving what they had experienced a few years earlier. It was truly touching and life-changing in some ways. TC would yell 'cut,' and I couldn't help but run over and hug Heather. ... You felt their real emotion at those moments."
Christensen said he met Jason Hansen after a speaking engagement in West Haven. Hansen invited Christensen to lunch and told him about his daughter. Christensen, always on the lookout for good stories, liked what he heard and wrote a first script that resonated with everyone involved.
"Sometimes we write a script and say, 'let's put that back in the file,'" Christensen said. "This one jumped out of the file ... and we committed to do it."
Christensen said the film's title, "Love, Kennedy," reflects how her life was like a love letter, he said.
Like Christensen, Beers acknowledged some touching "tear-jerker" moments in the movie, but those scenes are balanced with humor and lighthearted parts.
"I think you get the entire experience you are hoping for when you go to a movie," Beers said. "To be touched and moved but also to laugh and to have an escape. I think this movie offers all of those things."5 comments on this story
Beyond the inspiration of Kennedy's life, the film tells a story of connecting with one another through tragedy and joy, Beers said.
"At a time I think when the world is facing a lot of challenges, films like this help you return to what matters most: love, kindness, hopefulness and connection," Beers said. "I’ve lost people who I loved. The losses change us; they are painful, but you also reflect on the joy and it motivates you to grasp those moments of joy and be close to those you love. Working on this film reminded me of that once again."