July 5, 2005
By John Nesbit
Just a few blocks removed and out of sight of the Capital building and White House are poverty stricken neighborhoods, overrun by drug dealers, violence, unemployment, and homelessness. Few tourists will ever see this side of Washington D.C. although most have heard about their existence from media crime reports that present the irony and hopelessness of the situation—but now we can put faces to a few of the local citizens as well as see how they cope positively through David Petersen's revealing 2004 documentary Let the Church Say Amen. It follows Rev. Bobby Perkins and a handful of his congregation for two years as they strive to overcome their environment and achieve their dreams.
Petersen was previously nominated for an Academy Award for Fine Food, Fine Pastries, Open 6 to 9, but most of his independently produced films have screened at film festivals, museums, and on PBS. This film would be destined for the same fate; however, Film Movement has picked it up, granting the worthy film a wider audience through DVD distribution.
If you've ever been to a holiness (evangelical) African American church, you'll recognize the territory of Rev. Perkins' tiny storefront World Missions for Christ Church. The spontaneous Reverend poetically preaches, sings, dances with the best of them—and the congregation joins in, filled with the spirit. This is no staged James Brown rendition (a la Blues Brothers), nor is this manufactured for the camera--this is the real deal. Just a few minutes is enough to confirm the fact that this church forms the center of these people's lives, but casual viewers already know this and many films have captured honest portrayals. That isn't what makes Petersen's film stand out. It's the intimacy that he achieves, and natural flowing narratives that evolve and allow us into these people's lives.
Following Robert Drew's "cinema direct" principles, Petersen's objective camera allows virtually candid shots that captures the subjects on their home turf and avoids the dreadful "talking heads" style documentaries. These principles include:
Thus, Petersen becomes invisible during the filming process, and his major task in creating a viable narrative story consists of sorting and edting the two years' worth of raw footage, mixing a remarkable variety of shots and black and white footage with colored stock to great effect. Especially effective are the long shots of the Capital that both serve as transitions and as reminders of the close proximity of the Federal government that is either oblivious to the neighborhood's economic/social/cultural plight or powerless to to solve its problems.
Not so with this tiny church and its members. Whether or not you relate to their religious convictions, there can be no doubts about their sincerity and strength of character. Each of the main "characters" has overcome tremendous odds, and have set themselves firmly in the direction of achieving their dreams—all in keeping with the spirit behind the church itself. Originally founded by Dr. Rev. JoAnn Perkins, she gave over pastorship to her brother, realizing that his successful battle to overcome drug addiction through his faith in Jesus rendered him ideal for the position.
Three others that are certain to win your heart include: a former homeless man that now runs the church homeless shelter, who now dreams of owning his own home with a backyard and a tree so that he can again raise his children directly; a woman with a fifth grade reading level that is taking night classes to become a certified nurse; the church's main gospel singer who seeks justice for the gangland slaying of his oldest son and cuts a gospel CD with his 10 year old son on the drums.
Talking about these people becomes totally inadequate because their heartfelt honesty, det
--John Nesbit/ Toxic Universe - Review
January 27, 2004
By Scott Foundis
Documaker David Petersen looks at the Washington, D.C., congregation of Pastor Bobby Perkins in 'Let the Church Say Amen.'
"I'd rather have Jesus than silver and gold," goes a lyric from one of the rousing spirituals sung by members of Washington, D.C.'s World Missions for Christ Church. It could also serve as an alternate title for "Let the Church Say Amen," David Petersen's modest but affecting portrait of grassroots community activism undertaken by those who seek only God's glory as their reward. Populated by memorable characters whose commitment to humanity supersedes religious affiliation, docu should receive a warm reception from festival auds and from television viewers when it airs later this year on PBS' "Independent Lens" series.
Located in the shadow of the White House, the World Missions Church seems held together by faith like the lives of some of its parishioners. A true storefront operation, the building is a makeshift assemblage of pews with stained upholstery, unadorned light bulbs and carpet held together by electrical tape. But when Pastor Bobby Perkins steps to the pulpit, his fiery orations are so impassioned that all other considerations fall by the wayside.
Perkins is a reformed drug addict who credits the church, originally formed by his sister JoAnn, with his salvation. Now, he has become an important leader in the community, using his own self-empowerment to reach out to others in need. As "Let the Church Say Amen" unfolds -- spending a year in the company of its subjects -- it catches viewers up in the elation of once-broken lives repaired and of people driven by an irrepressible desire to do good.
In addition to the Perkinses, pic follows David Surles, a homeless jack-of-all-trades who first came to the church to repair a plumbing leak and never left; Darlene Duncan, a nursing student and mother of eight who makes no distinction between her real family and her church family; and Ceodtis "Brother C" Fulmore, whose dream of spreading the faith through gospel music was only strengthened by the tragic death of his eldest son. Long before pic's end, Peterson has made viewers care deeply about these people, and he does it without ever once asking the viewers for pity.
--Scott Foundis/ Variety - Review