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    Producer Sean Dinwoodie and actor Stephen Baldwin appear together before the premiere of "I'm in Love With a Church Girl."

    Pawcatuck native’s first feature film is making its national debut

    When Pawcatuck native Sean Dinwoodie was 13 years old, his grandfather used to drive him to video-making classes at Storer Cablevison in Groton. Today the 39-year-old Los Angeles filmmaker co-owns Content Production Partners, a company whose clients include MTV, ABC News, E! Entertainment, PBS and Fox.

    Dinwoodie’s first feature-length film — “I’m in Love With a Church Girl” — will make its national debut today. In a new twist to movie marketing, area residents can request a local screening by going to the “Demand The Movie” website, adding a local zip code and voting for the film to be screened at a movie theater nearby.

    Billed as a “Christian movie,” the movie stars Ja Rule (Jeffrey Atkins) and Adrienne Bailon (one of the Cheetah Girls), and has a cast that includes Stephen Baldwin and Vincent “Big Pussy” Pastore of Sopranos fame.

    “I had an inkling he was going places,” said his grandfather, Warren Rowe of North Stonington, “but I didn’t realize it would grow into this.”

    His mother, Patricia Dinwoodie, who worked for 23 years as the school nurse for St. Michael School in Pawcatuck, said, “Sean was always into music and the arts. And he was a dreamer — a real daydreamer.”

    Throughout middle school and high school, Dinwoodie remained active in dance, drama club and the chorus. At Stonington High School he was president of the Music Honor Society.

    “Sean was a great student,” said Michele Holt, Dinwoodie’s high school music teacher, who now teaches at the University of Rhode Island. “He was very, very active. He also had a great sense of humor. He was the kind of kid everyone liked and everyone wanted to be around.”

    As much as he enjoyed dancing, singing and acting, Dinwoodie’s heart was in video production. It wasn’t long before he was hired by the cable company to video high school sports events, election coverage and other local programs.

    He co-produced a variety show and a TV show called “The Bear Facts,” about the goings-on at the high school.

    “We even got into a little magic,” laughed Dinwoodie.

    It was at Storer Cable — which has since been bought by Comcast — that Dinwoodie met Cliff Robinson, another Pawcatuck native, who was running the public access department. Robinson told Dinwoodie about his plans to head to Hollywood and find work in the film industry. Dinwoodie was intrigued. Intrigued enough to forgo enrolling at Emerson College, despite the offer of an attractive tuition package. When Dinwoodie found out that Emerson students couldn’t touch the college’s video or film equipment until their junior year, he knew he couldn’t wait. He headed west with Robinson.

    The pair experimented with a number of companies before forming CPP, which is overseeing “Church Girls,” with Dinwoodie as a producer and Robinson working on public relations.

    Robinson said that “I’m in Love With a Church Girl” is based on a true story. A successful entrepreneur (Ja Rule), haunted by a criminal past and surrounded by old friends still “in the life,” finds faith, redemption and inspiration when God puts a woman of faith (Bailon) in his life.

    Ja Rule, who recently spent nearly two years behind bars for illegal gun possession, landed the role, said Robinson, because screenwriter Galley Molina empathized with the rapper’s missteps. “People used to ask, ‘Well, you know he’s a felon?’ And I would say, ‘Well, so am I,’” Molina, a 44-year-old pastor who was locked up for five years for drug trafficking, told the Associated Press. “I know his heart. I know what type of dude he is and he was probably one of the most professional guys on the set.”

    “Ja Rule is very personable and very nice,” said Dinwoodie. “He takes time out for the fans and for photos with fans. He is probably the hardest-working actor on the set. I think people will be blown away by his acting.”

    The film was co-produced by Molina and Grammy-winning Christian singer Israel Houghton and is based on Molina’s life. Ja Rule was hired while his gun possession cases were pending. He was released from house arrest in July after he had served most of a two-year sentence in a New York state prison before his subsequent transfer into federal custody in a tax evasion case. He admitted failing to pay taxes on more than $3 million earned between 2004 and 2006.

    “This role was very different for me,” Ja Rule, whose film credits include “The Fast and the Furious,” told the AP. “I’ve done a lot of films that all have been pretty edgy. I played thug characters, but with this character, even though I play a thug somewhat, he’s really a guy going through a transition.”

    Ja Rule became known for hip-hop jams, including No. 1 hits with Jennifer Lopez and Ashanti. He’s had four Grammy nominations and said he was still excited about recording, but wanted to focus on TV and film.

    “I’m in Love With a Church Girl” will debut today in more than 500 theaters in the U.S.

    Dinwoodie said that there’s “a big growth in Christian productions in Hollywood.” He and several members of the cast had just completed a six-week, multicity bus tour, visiting mega churches and promoting the movie and its message. “If the audience believes in the message they’ll promote it and tell other people about it,” said Dinwoodie. “The story itself is very real and very edgy. It’s got a good positive message.”

    Dinwoodie is in pre-production with his next project, a film called “Sherman’s Way,” with producer Michael K. Race and director Steve Race. It is a coming-of-age story, starring George Lopez, about a Mexican American girl in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles.

    “I’ve long had the goal of wanting to be a movie producer,” said Dinwoodie. “I want to tell stories. That’s what I want to do.”

    Patricia Dinwoodie now sees the merit in her son’s early years as a daydreamer.

    “Maybe this is what he was dreaming about,” she said.

    To vote for a local showing, visit iminlovewithachurchgirl.demandthemovie.com.

    nbfusaro@thewesterlysun.com.

     


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