Everything is a miracle.
Strangely, you’ reckon something that amazing could only happen to others – until it happens to you.
“I used to think a miracle comes with a flash and a boom and a loud voice. But now I know it’s also goodness and love, things working when they’ve no reason to,” Christy Beam stated.
Christy is the devoted mother whose world flipped upside down when her 12 year old daughter, Anna, contracted a rare, incurable and lethal pseudo-obstruction motility disorder. In constant pain, the child is unable to eat and can only be fed through a nose tube.
Christy wrote the book on which the movie “Miracles from Heaven” was based – the true story which happened to her family in Burleson, Texas, in 2011, her struggle to find healing for her sick middle child which culminated in Anna’s freak accident – a headlong tumble inside a dead 30-foot cottonwood tree.
Instead, of succumbing or getting paralyzed in the fall, Anna underwent a near-death experience of visiting heaven and was cured of her disease.
But “Even though Christy was always praying for a big miracle, she didn’t realize until later that they’re all around her the whole time,” says producer, DeVon Franklin.
“The movie was more than the remarkable miracle of Anna and the tree. It’s equally about miracles of love and forgiveness, simple, selfless acts of kindness, what we can do on a day-to-day basis to be there for each other, to be that miracle someone else needs.”
“A miracle is also someone like Angela – a random stranger showing up and becoming a friend,” observed Jennifer Garner, the actress who played Christy. “A miracle is doctors going out of their way to help, the enduring love of a close-knit family, every baby born, every flower that blooms.”
For their part, the producers were looking for an inspirational story, a follow-up to Heaven Is For Real.
“Miracles From Heaven is also about how a family survives adversities, fighting for what you believe in,” noted co-producer T.D Jakes. “Sometimes fighters aren’t burly men but tough mamas who refuse to give up on their kids. So, you will see faith in this film, people fighting against fear. And you might even see yourself.”
Being no stranger to family crises, director Patricia Riggen felt an immediate personal connection to the film.
“I had a family member with an incurable disease who passed away a few years ago,” she disclosed. “I’m too familiar with that world of hospitals and the struggles of mothers and I thought it was so beautiful to see things turn out well in this story.”
The fact that the Beams family really exist and were willing to share their story made it more potent for the director.
Furthermore, “It’s a mother-daughter love story,” DeVon added. “When you have a mom determined to save her child, there’s no other force in this universe like it. Christy is like a lion as she becomes a true champion for her daughter’s healing.”
The actress who played Christy has three kids herself. “Jennifer had that immediate understanding of Christy’s situation. But she also brought a sense of love, care and generosity that becomes the center of all the film’s relationships,” the director went on.
“The Beam family goes through all the colors of life. You see them shift from happiness to real struggle and conflict and then back to a stronger form of happiness.”
“The night I read the script, I couldn’t sleep. This family’s story was so moving to me and I remember feeling so grateful for my healthy three sleeping down the hall,” Jennifer admitted.
Meeting Christy Beam gave her perspective. “This is the first time I’ve been able to spend so much time with the person I’m portraying. And I knew I was going to love her before I even met her. The strength she showed is something that I aspire to as a mother. I love her quiet faith.”
By contrast, Martin Henderson, who played Christy’s veterinarian husband, Kevin, had his doubts about “Miracles From Heaven” before he cracked the script.
“I was cynical and had preconceived notions about what it was going to be, but when I started reading, I was pulled into this family’s plight. I found myself caring deeply about them. I thought if I’m having such a meaningful experience just on the page, this is going to be a very powerful movie on the screen.”
One of the things that felt so authentic for him was the portrait of a marriage under pressure.
“Christy is faced with the question; ‘if I’m a good person, why is my daughter not getting better?’ That starts to form a wedge between her and Kevin because he’s been there trying to just keep things running financially and keeping the bonds with their other children going.”
The role of Anna, a feisty bookworm who dreams of Paris, went to Texas-born 11 year-old Kylie Rogers.
Kylie’s challenge was taking the audience through Anna’s journey, from sunny optimism to raw anguish to renewal.
“She had to work wearing a prosthetic belly, exploring what Anna was experiencing inside, but she nailed it. I can’t wait to see where her career goes from here,” remarked Queen Latifah, who played Angel, the kind stranger who took mother and daughter under her wing.
Right away, Kylie identified with Anna. “She’s like me. She loves books and mermaids and Paris and I’ve always wanted to go to Paris, too.”
Yet it was also tricky to imagine life as a girl who can’t do what other kids take as a given – from eating pizza to playing outside. “She used to be climbing trees, playing soccer and then all of that just stopped when she got sick. And I think that was really, really hard.”
Kylie had good chemistry with her screen mom. “We had all these little inside jokes and ideas we shared that made us feel really close. She’s always calm and sweet with me. She’s a great mom in real life and she’s a great movie mom.”
The other remarkable character in the film was Boston’s Children Hospital’s pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Samuel Nurko, the foremost expert on Anna’s rare problem, who was portrayed by Mexican actor, filmmaker and racecar driver Eugenio Derbez.
“It’s an honor to play Dr. Nurko not only because he’s such a medical hero, but he’s also an eminent Mexican,” Eugenio remarked.
What’s more, talking with Dr. Nurko, he learned a lot about how he helps kids find joy while confronting strange ailments and challenging treatments.
“He’s not the typical, scary doctor. He doesn’t wear a white coat and kids don’t even feel they’re in the hospital when he’s around. He places no shields between them and himself. He plays around and makes jokes while doing exams. Laughter really is the best medicine for your soul. That’s one of his secrets.”
Dr. Nurko made a special trip to the set just to see the actor at work. And yet, to this day, he cannot explain what changed inside Anna in medical terms.
His best guess was that Anna’s fall from the height of three stories inside the tree could have “reset” her system.
“Children with motility disorders do have hope and often can live long lives. But the odds of this happening after such a big drama are very, very small. It’s unbelievable how well Anna’s doing. It’s hard to explain,” he acknowledged.
“When you have so much pain, it’s like a problem with the software of your being. Somehow her software got reset. The pain became much more livable and eventually disappeared. That’s what we hope for with all our patients.”
(MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN opens in Metro Manila theaters March 16, 2016.)