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‘Healing River’ Review: Local actor helps bring forgiveness to screen

Check out new movie on Amazon Prime


Mackenzie Joefreda

Whatzup Features Writer

Published June 4, 2020

Forgiveness can be difficult, especially when something tragic and painful has occurred.

In the faith-based film Healing River, a woman’s son is killed by a drug-addicted young man, leaving the mother enraged with the boy. Throughout the movie, she’s challenged with cultivating the strength to forgive her son’s murderer.

Local actor Michael Wilhelm plays Father Peter, a Catholic priest and brother of the woman who lost her son.

Director puts himself in the movie

According to Wilhelm, his character was much like the director and writer Mitch Teemley himself.

“It was like the author putting himself into the script,” Wilhelm said. “I knew Mitch, so I was finding the kind of attitude he had and his cerebral way of communicating, yet in a very lighthearted way. I was just buddying around with Mitch to understand how he operated so I could then operate with that quality.”

The priest makes several references to many sci-fi and Beatles references — in other words, the gospel according to modern culture, according to Wilhelm.

Wilhelm’s favorite line from the movie is “Justice without mercy is revenge. God doesn’t want that!”

“That’s probably the pivotal point in the whole film,” Wilhelm said.

From California to Cincinnati

Teemley and Wilhelm met out in California while working on a student film together.

“We did this film and it was cute and adorable and kind of funny,” Wilhelm said. “While I was working there, I found out that he was also a fellow believer in Christ, but then we lost touch.”

Twenty years later, Wilhelm and his family relocated and bought a house in Fort Wayne. While packing for the move, he ran across the tape he and Teemley created.

Through Facebook, Wilhelm reconnected with Teemley and discovered he had relocated to Cincinnati. Later, Teemley contacted Wilhelm with an opportunity to work together again.

“He was casting for this film and wanted me to send him a video audition,” Wilhelm said. “I hadn’t seen him in 20 years, and now I’m working for him again.”

Wilhelm said this movie was a joy to work on. He hated to see it end.

“Here I am a local actor in Fort Wayne and I’m going down trying to rub elbows with the arts community in Cincinnati,” Wilhelm said. “I was really intimidated, but they were so fun, gifted, and talented to work with.”

This was the biggest film Wilhelm had ever done, though he’s been featured in several other works.

“I didn’t know very much about how the technical side of it worked since this was the first big-budget piece I’ve ever done,” Wilhelm said. “But I was surprised. It was a treat, like going to Cedar Point for the first time in your life.”

Production took about nine weeks, but Wilhelm wasn’t there the entire time since he was commuting from Fort Wayne.

Filming Forgiveness

Through filming this movie, Wilhelm found that he could go places as a performer he didn’t know he could go to before.

“It’s like swimming in the deep end for the first time,” Wilhelm said.

As a follower of Christ, he realized the power of forgiveness.

“It’s not easy to be able to let it go when you know something wrong happened,” Wilhelm said. “You really have to let go of it to find freedom in life.”

Though this movie has a strong Catholic backdrop, Wilhelm said everyone should see it since it contains a universal message.

“Regardless of denomination, forgiveness is very important,” Wilhelm said. “It just happened to be that we told the story with a Catholic setting.”

Viewers can find Healing River on DVD or Amazon. Wilhelm also believes the movie will be released on other platforms in the future.

Outside of this production, Wilhelm is connected with all for One productions in Fort Wayne. This coming season, all for One will be performing a play he wrote, The Dreadful Journal of Phoebe Weems, as its season opener.

“Life worked out in a way that I couldn’t imagine,” Wilhelm said.

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