Vatican Declaration Gives New Momentum to Tolton Film

Pope Francis’ declaration that Father Augustine Tolton is “Venerable” has created a spark of interest about the film Across. The movie about Tolton is being developed by Bolder Pictures from a screenplay and a short film by Christopher Foley.

“I had spoken to Bishop Perry recently, and we had good hope that this was in the works,” said Foley about the auxiliary bishop of Chicago who is spearheading Tolton’s sainthood process. “But, I was still surprised and overjoyed at how soon it happened.”

Father Tolton was the first black priest in America, and now there is great anticipation that he will be the first African American saint. The title “Venerable” is only 2 steps away from full canonization.

Foley says his project - which is currently seeking micro-investors - got a strong uptick in interest on social media and via email since the news about Tolton broke. “We’re excited at the timing because of our TruCrowd campaign at FaithFilmFund. We have a chance to be the Catholic version of The Chosen, which raised $10 million from crowd investing. This will help spread the word about this amazing American hero, and give people a chance to invest in the film for as little as $100.”

The short film - which focused on Tolton’s attempt to escape slavery during the Civil War - has laureled at several film festivals, and is now available for private screenings at churches. For more information about investing, go to this site. To contact the production team about screening the short film with a presentation about Tolton’s life, fill out the form on the movie’s site here.

Shawn Whitsell next to a photo of the man he portrays, Father Tolton, in the short film,  Across .

Shawn Whitsell next to a photo of the man he portrays, Father Tolton, in the short film, Across.

Father Tolton Film Chosen to Launch Crowd Investing Site

NASHVILLE, TN - Across, the film about the life of America’s first black priest, has been chosen by FaithFilmFund to be the pilot project for it’s new crowd-investing consulting service in conjunction with The movie project began as a short film, and now is being developed as a two-hour feature. Set in the late 19th century, it’s the story of Father Augustine Tolton. The Catholic priest was a courageous figure in the pre-history of the Civil Rights movement and now is being considered for sainthood in the Vatican.

Writer/Producer Christopher Foley oversaw the production of the short film and now is working with producers Joan Tankersley, Princella Smith, and Jon Graham to get the feature in front of cameras and into theaters. “Father Tolton lived a flat-out incredible American adventure,” said Foley. “You don’t need to have an interest in period dramas, civil rights history or Christian film to get on board with Father Gus. You just need to like great stories.”

FaithFilmFund was started by Graham in order to meld the huge surge in faith-based movies with the crowd-funding phenomena. But, he says, there is something unique about his company. “We have partnered with an SEC approved portal for investments, so it’s not like the crowd-funding you are used to. Technically, we facilitate the ‘equity crowd funding’ process - what we like to call ‘crowd-investing,’” said Graham. “For as little as $100, you actually can participate in the revenue from the film.”

Most crowd-funded projects are based on donations, but FaithFilmFund, working in conjunction with TruCrowd, actually sets up their funds under guidelines from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Although the initial development fund for Across is only a small portion of the film’s budget, their site lays out their planned path to production and a theatrical release.

The crowd-investing fund is only part of their strategy to success in independent movie making. While courting the public, the producers are also pitching to big-name film producers in several genres. Tankersley is currently at the Cannes Film Market, putting the project in front of an array of Hollywood’s movers and shakers. “As a narrative, Across has both an American foundation, but a global appeal,” said Tankersley. “The script provides some surprises, but it remains a crucial, untold storyline of great faith and great sacrifice woven into the landscape of America.  I love this story.”

Story is still king in the industry. So, telling the tale of a runaway slave from Missouri, who ends up being ordained in Rome, is bound to draw interest. Producer Princella Smith joined the project after a presentation at another filmmaker gathering, FilmCom, last year. “As a black American, it is so exciting to learn about unsung heroes from the past, because it gives us so much hope for our future,” she said. “Father Tolton is one hero that our kids can point to and see that talent is more than dribbling a basketball or running a football.”

Crowd Investing is a new concept - only put into effect in 2016 as part of the JOBS act. Many types of start-up businesses are taking advantage. However, the only known faith-based films to try it are VidAngel’s The Chosen, a series about the life of Christ - and Graham’s own Kind Katie. Graham successfully raised over $80,000 of his development budget while VidAngel’s campaign has raised a whopping $10.2 million in the first phase alone.

The Across team knows there is a long way to go until their movie makes it to your local multiplex, but they are confident that the Crowd Investing strategy will raise both interest and funds. “America’s love for the movies is not just about watching them,” said Foley. “We love the stars, the soundtracks, the awards, the locations. And having an actual stake in the game with this fund - it’s a little like being a co-producer.” To read more about the fund - or to invest - look for the link at, or

Shawn Whitsell as Augustine Tolton in the short film,  Across

Shawn Whitsell as Augustine Tolton in the short film, Across

Tolton Film Gets a Seat at the Cannes Table

Across: The Father Tolton Movie is being represented at the world’s most prestigious film market - Cannes. The ten-day event - run in conjunction with the famous Cannes Film Festival - brings together filmmakers and distributors from all over the globe. Joan Tankersley will be pitching the feature film project - based on the completed short film of the same name - as part of her slate of projects for Five Key Collective.

“The good news for Across is that it has a global audience appeal. I love this story and Chris knows his craft,” Tankersley said, speaking about Screenwriter Christopher Foley. “The pacing of the script is really good too, and, in this kind of emotional work, that is so crucial.”

The movie project, which tells the story of America’s first black priest, has gained momentum as of late due to several film festival laurels and a keen interest from African Americans and Catholics. Augustine Tolton, who died in 1897, was an obscure figure in the pre-history of the Civil Rights movement, until his cause for sainthood was introduced in the Vatican several years ago. As that process gains momentum, so has the development of the feature film.

“I’m so excited to be able to share the project at Cannes,” said Foley. “Father Gus’ story - although uniquely American - is one that will be loved by audiences all across the world. Joan and I are confident that there will be interest from numerous quarters of the film industry.”

The movie’s official Facebook page has been a good source of information on the development of the project. Across also recently launched an Instagram and Twitter page as well to keep up with the growing interest.

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'Across' Director Wins Pitch Award

Director Christopher Foley took home first prize for his pitch about feature film Across: The Father Tolton Movie at the annual Tennessee Women in Film and Media event.

This year, TWIFM wanted to showcase local filmmakers by letting them present their projects to a panel of industry experts. Producer/Director Lisa Arnold (God’s Not Dead,”) Steve Hayes of APM/Universal, and Mike Stryker of Casting Life Productions joined entertainment attorneys Corky Kessler and Angela Green as judges.

“Christopher’s pitch was the most clear and the most developed, and we think Across has a bright future,” said Arnold when announcing the panel’s decision.

Foley was given a cash prize courtesy of the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County as well as a voucher for $1000 of legal services with Kessler’s firm.

Lisa Arnold announces TWIFM’s pitch winner, Christopher Foley

Lisa Arnold announces TWIFM’s pitch winner, Christopher Foley

Two Special 'Across' Screenings Grace Nashville

Across, the short film about the boyhood of America’s first black priest, Father Augustine Tolton, was shown at two very special recent events. The first screening was on the campus of the Nashville Dominican Sisters, and included guest-of-honor Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago. The bishop is the postulator for Tolton’s sainthood cause, and flew to Nashville to see the film and speak to the nuns and their guests. Along with Writer/Director Christopher Foley, he took questions from the audience after the film and talk.

Perry was able to share for the first time publicly, the news that Father Tolton’s cause had taken the next step toward sainthood earlier in the week. The commission in Rome to study his life had unanimously approved the case to be sent to Pope Francis. This sets up the high likelihood that Tolton will be named ‘Venerable’ later this year.

The day was also notable for a ‘Communion of Saints’ connection that was made by one of the Sisters in attendance. She noted that, in the late 19th century, the same bishop who had invited Tolton to Chicago had previously been the bishop of Nashville. In fact, it was that same Bishop Patrick Feehan who had twice saved the Nashville Dominicans from bankruptcy AND had sponsored the building of the very room where the screening was being held. Now called “the Oratory,” the room used to be the nuns’ chapel and one of the stained glass windows was inscribed with Bishop Feehan’s name.

In a separate event, the film was shown at the Catholic Pastoral Center, the headquarters for the Nashville Diocese. Joan Watson, Director of Adult Formation, organized and hosted the event. Foley, along with lead actress Nina Hibbler-Webster and Deacon William Hill spoke to the audience and fielded questions. Hill presented a history of black Catholics in Middle Tennessee while Foley and Hibbler-Webster talked about the making of the film and the life of Augustine Tolton and his mother. Foley also updated the audiences about the progress of turning the short film into a full feature film about Tolton.

Both screenings were kicked off by a live performance of the film’s theme song, “North Star,” by Mary Beth Anthony. Not only did she write and produce the record for the film, but she also co-produced the movie itself with her husband Christopher Foley.

The events were well-attended by movie-lovers, history buffs, and faithful looking to learn more about an unsung hero in the pre-history of the Civil Rights movement.

Please scroll down for some images from the events.


World Christian Broadcasting Features 'Across' Interview

Christian World Broadcasting recently conducted an interview with Across Writer/Director Christopher Foley. CWB is an international evangelical station that uses shortwave radio to reach almost the entire world by means of their towers in Alaska and Madagascar. Paul Ladd, Director at the station, found out about the project through Shawn Whitsell, one of the actors in the short film.

Across is the story of the boyhood of Father Augustine Tolton, the first black priest in America. Foley is now in the process of seeking investors to turn the short film into a 2-hour feature. To hear the segment, click on the link to Bolder Pictures youtube page, where it has been re-published with permission from CWB.

Diocese of Nashville to Host Special Screening of 'Across'

Across, the short film about the boyhood of America’s first black priest, will be shown to the public at Nashville’s Catholic Pastoral Center on February 17. Admission is FREE. The screening, which begins at 2pm, is part of the diocese’s commemoration of Black History Month, and will feature a discussion panel following the film. Deacon William Hill, an expert on the history of Catholicism in the black community of Middle Tennessee, will be joined on the panel by the movie’s director, Christopher Foley. and lead actress, Nina Hibbler-Webster.

Joan Watson, the event’s organizer, feels that the story of Father Tolton - who suffered persecution for both his race and his religion - is a beacon in the long Civil Rights struggle in America. In Rome, Tolton’s cause for sainthood has advanced through the first few stages. There is a strong possibility that he will be named ‘Venerable’ this calendar year.

Across has already picked up a number of laurels at film festivals. It was filmed in the Nashville area, and features a talented cast, headlined by Hibber-Webster as Martha Tolton and Jaylon Gordon as young Gus Tolton.

Guests are encourage to RSVP on the facebook event page.

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Across to Close Out Tennessee's Franklin Fest November 4th

The short film Across will be shown at the Franklin International Independent Film Festival on Sunday, November 4th at 3pm. The screening is part of the closing block of shorts for FIIFF, the burgeoning cinema event which takes place 20 minutes south of Nashville.

The movie, which tells the story of the childhood of America’s first black priest, was produced in Middle Tennessee, and locals will recognize a number of historic landmarks. “Technically, this is our Tennessee premiere,” said director Christopher Foley. “Although we had a private event for the filmmakers earlier this year, this is the first time we have shown the project to the public here in Nashville. We are honored to be chosen by Franklin Fest, and we hope to have a great turnout.”

Those interested are encouraged to pre-purchase tickets at, by clicking on Tickets, selecting Single Film Blocks, and chosing the very last option - SU-1-3 Film Block. You can also share the facebook event page.

Although it is a self-contained 1/2 hour short film, Across is also the first chapter in a proposed feature film about Father Augustine Tolton. Tolton - in addition to being an important figure in the pre-history of the Civil Rights movement - is currently being considered for canonization to sainthood by the Catholic Church.

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Franklin, TN Festival Taps 'Across' for Fall Screening

The Franklin International Independent Film Festival has chosen Across as an official selection in their 2018 line-up.  The event, which takes place just a few miles from where the majority of the film was shot, will start on November 1.  The festival runs for four days, but the screening time for the period drama has yet to be announced.

"This is exciting!" said Director Christopher Foley, "So many of our cast and crew live right in Franklin.  The overwhelming majority of us are within 30 minutes.  We hope to have a big turn-out from all around Middle Tennessee at this awesome event."

The producers chose the Nashville area for their shoot due to the gorgeous natural settings and the historic buildings from the Civil War era.  On top of that, the area is home to a growing pool of talented actors and crew members.  As the capital of not only Country Music, but Christian Music, Middle Tennessee has seen the burgeoning Faith-based film community take notice - and take root - in the rapidly expanding region.

Across is the short film about the boyhood of Father Augustine Tolton, America's first black priest.  The producers are in the process of turning the short film into a full 2-hour feature.

Keep updated on all the news from Across on their facebook page.

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Good News for 'Across' from San Francisco and Nashville

'Across,' the short film about the boyhood of the first African-American priest, has been named an official selection at the 20th Annual San Francisco Black Film Festival.  The screening will be the West Coast premiere for the movie and will occur sometime between June 14th and 17th.  The official schedule should be announced soon on the festival's website.

  "I lived in California for a decade," said director Christopher Foley, "and I am psyched for us to be a part of this renowned event.  It's an honor for our whole team."

'Across' has had an excellent week.  Just 5 days ago, the feature film project (based on the short) was one of only 10 stories chosen in Nashville Film Festival's 'Pitch, Round Three.'  Foley presented the story for a packed theater that included legendary film critic Leonard Maltin and executives from Netflix and other major studios.


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'Across' Accepted at Two Nashville Film Marketing Events

Across: The Father Tolton Movie has been accepted into BOTH of Nashville's biggest Film Marketing events.  The first is Film-Com, a Financing, Packaging and Distribution Market, that takes place June 19-22 in Music City.  Film-Com is not a festival per se, but a business convention for filmmakers to connect and create.  Across will be an "Official Selection" at the gathering, and it's poster and contact info will be available to all the attendees on the Film-Com website for an entire year.

"I am so happy to be a part of Film-Com," said Writer/Director Christopher Foley.  "This market has special significance to us because it was an event that was near and dear to Matt's heart."  Producer Matthew Cameron attended Film-Com before he ever lived in Nashville, and cited it's friendly atmosphere as one of the main reasons he decided to move to Middle Tennessee.  Cameron passed away during post production of the Across short film, and the movie - as well as the effort to flip it into a full feature film - is dedicated to his memory.

Across has also made it to Round Two of "The Pitch" at May's Nashville Film Festival.  Like Film-Com, "The Pitch" is an opportunity for filmmakers to bring their feature film project to the attention of producers and collaborators from around the country.

The Across team hopes to establish many relationships at both events in their effort to bring Father Tolton, the first African American priest, to the attention of a wider audience.

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Hero of 'Across' Takes Next Step Toward Sainthood

Exciting news from Chicago this week came in the form of an announcement about the true-life hero of Across.  Father Augustine Tolton has passed the next stage on his road to Sainthood.  The "positio" or historical account of his life has been unanimously approved by the historical and theological commission in the Vatican.  This crucial stage makes it very likely "Father Gus" will be named Venerable next February.  After that, the commission will look for proof of actual miracles associated with Tolton in order to name him "Beatified" - the final stage before Canonization.

Christopher Foley, the writer/director of Across, the film about Tolton's life, was ecstatic.  "Father Gus is a true American hero, and every step he makes in this process will bring him to the attention of more and more people.  We cannot wait to share his story to all who seek him out."  Across is currently a short film about Tolton's boyhood attempt to escape slavery.  However, the filmmakers are in the process of flipping the short into a 2-hour feature, in order to reach a wider audience. 

More details about this story can be found on the Diocese of Chicago's website - CLICK HERE>

A photograph of Father Tolton looks over the actor playing him, Jaylon Gordon and Director Christopher Foley

A photograph of Father Tolton looks over the actor playing him, Jaylon Gordon and Director Christopher Foley

'Across' Selected for World Music & International Film Festival

The World Music & International Film Festival has officially selected 'Across' for their 10th annual celebration and competition next January.  The short film about America's first black priest was also nominated in FIVE individual categories:

  • Best Director (Christopher Foley)
  • Best Cinematography (Logen Christopher)
  • Best Actor (Dan Michael)
  • Best Young Actor (Jaylon Gordon)
  • Best Costume Design (Yoshie Lewis)

WMIFF is a unique celebration of movies and music that takes place each year on a cruise ship.  The 2019 edition will be departing from Tampa, Florida on January 26.  For more information about the festival, click here.

Across' Facebook page blew up with congratulatory comments when the news went out earlier today.  The team behind the historic drama are proud to be a part of WMIFF.


Catholic Family News Promotes 'Across' at Annual Conference

Director Christopher Foley spoke about Across: The Father Tolton Movie to a full house at the Catholic Family News conference last week.  The annual gathering took place in the Chicago area, which was also the site of Tolton's apostolate in the last part of the 19th century.  In conjunction with the the conference, CFN published an article in the April edition introducing their readership to both 'Father Gus' himself and the film.

Foley took questions about the plan to turn the project into a feature-length movie.  He explained how Tolton suffered much in his quest to become the first African-American priest.  "His courageous example is a shining example to people of all races and all times," Foley remarked.

Foley was introduced to the article's author, Susan Vennari, through her 90-year-old mother, Joan Hoffsommer.  The director and his wife had been driving Mrs. Hoffsommer to church each week as she suffered through a debilitating leg infection.  At his suggestion, she had decided to pray for Father Tolton's intercession to restore her health.  She recovered so quickly that she decided to write her story down for the committee who is considering Tolton for sainthood.


Red Carpet Premiere Celebrates "Across"

Cast and crew gathered last night to celebrate the completion of the short film, "Across."  Loud applause erupted from the Theater of Watkins College and tears were shed for the touching period drama.

The night opened with some music by The Long Goners, including the first live performance of the movie's theme, "North Star."  The film's collaborators gathered on a red carpet in front of the new official poster.  Director Christopher Foley thanked his hard working team, with special mention of his wife Mary Beth and his co-producer, Matthew Cameron, who passed away after filming was completed last fall.

"Across" is now preparing to enter film festivals while actively looking for investors to turn the short into a feature film.

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