10 strangers, 10 commandments

IRVINE — In Orange County's population of 3 million, it's easy to feel isolated.

But film producers and Mariners Church members John Ward and Jeff Pries believe that this isolation is a mirage — that the actions of every person create a domino effect that touches others.

To help teach people that your every action matters, the duo are part of a team that produced a 20th Century Fox feature film, "I AM."

Likened to a faith-based version of the Oscar-winning "Crash," the film depicts the moral struggles of 10 strangers whose lives connect through a series of seemingly random and independent events.

"It's a different kind of faith-based film because we don't present answers," said Ward, an actor and screenwriter. "Most of our predecessors, and other faith-based films released by other studios, provide just one answer that they say is the right answer. We set out from the very beginning with the goal to not give an answer but to get people to start a conversation."

The characters in the movie struggle with one of the Ten Commandments, but when one law gets broken, other laws can get broken, too, Ward explained.

Their actions revolving around their personal moral dilemmas lead them into other character's lives and problems.

"With each domino that falls, the momentum picks up speed," Ward said. "It's only when they begin to listen to that voice of 'I AM' that they are able to fix things. We didn't make this wonderful movie where everything is wrapped up neatly with a nice little bow — it's real life. When things go wrong, when we make bad choices, it's a long, difficult road, and we tried to be true to that."

Ward and Pries, who is a pastor at Mariners Church, hopes the film will spark dialogue at the 2,500 churches nationwide that have been given free screening privileges, and then continue on to touch all "empty seats," the people who have given up on attending church for one reason or another.

"The idea is to create questions for people and give ['I AM'] to the churches to let them have those conversations with people," Pries said. "It's up to the churches to help them answer those questions and then create a relationship with those people and walk through life with them."

Although the movie was set in Los Angeles, most of the filming was done in Orange County and more than 100 Mariners members acted or assisted in the production, Pries said.

The film has already screened in a few churches and received positive feedback, he said. Tickets for an Oct. 11 screening at the Lido Theater in Newport Beach sold out.

Because there are so many churches showing the film, Pries said that Mariners was unable to make a centralized screening schedule available to the public.

The best way to find out where the movie is showing is to talk to your church leaders, he advised.

Additionally, the movie will be released on DVD at select Christian bookstores Tuesday and will be available at most other major retailers Nov. 2.

"In a lot of ways, the Ten Commandments have been bushed aside as some archaic thing, where people don't really think it applies to the way we live," Pries said. "Rather, we believe that the Ten Commandments is a love letter to us where God is saying 'I want to help you and when you mess up, I'm still with you.'"

Register: marinerschurch.org

If You Go

What: Free screening of the 20th Century Fox film "I AM"

When: 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Mariners Church, 5001 Newport Coast Drive, Irvine

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