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Rebel Pilgrim: Cincinnati actor and pastor Joe Boyd combines his vocations

'Strange Brand of Happy' opens Cincy Film Fest

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CINCINNATI - Whether from a stage, screen or pulpit, Joe Boyd has spent his entire adult life trying to reach people.

“I’ve had a weird career,” Boyd said with a smirk, rattling off back-and-forth spans as a nondenominational Christian minister, comic improviser, screen actor and producer—from Cincinnati to Las Vegas to Los Angeles.

Boyd, who grew up in Kentucky and Columbus, Ohio, moved to the tri-state area to attend seminary at Cincinnati Christian University and spent much of the past eight years pastoring through Vineyard Cincinnati. Now Boyd has found a way to blend his vocations.

Rebel Pilgrim Productions, the filmmaking company he co-founded five years ago, is named after the description Boyd has given to Jesus Christ. Rebel Pilgrim’s films are soft, thoughtful and anything but evangelical. The latest is “A Strange Brand of Happy,” about a man, played by Boyd, who moves from atheism to agnosticism through a romantic pursuit.

The film opens the Cincinnati Film Fest at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, at 20th Century Theatre. It then goes, on Sept. 13, to at least two dozen theaters—most of them in Cincinnati, elsewhere in Ohio and Northern Kentucky—and perhaps closer to 50 through a Kickstarter-styled fundraising effort.

“My general faith story is to not be very pushy about what I believe, so our movies have the tone of just trying to get people to ask questions about faith, to ask about the big questions of life,” Boyd said.

“There’s no conversion scene. We don’t talk about Jesus,” he said of the movie. “We talk about God a little bit, so the spiritual journey—the hardest and most important one—is when we go from not thinking about it to thinking about it.”

Boyd lived in Las Vegas when he co-founded Rebel Pilgrim, in 2005, and the company still has an office there. The company’s first film, “Road to Emmaus,” is a documentary-styled travelogue reenacting an ancient Biblical pilgrimage—here from Jerusalem, Ohio to Emmaus, Pa. Rebel Pilgrim has since produced three more films, with seven others in production, along with a slough of commercial work that, in part, helps fund the company’s creative pursuits.

The company spent less than $500,000 to make “A Strange Brand of Happy,” said Boyd, citing the company’s mission as a motive for actors to come on board for far less than they might normally command. Shirley Jones, of “The Partridge Family” fame, has a supporting role in “A Strange Brand of Happy.”

The film was shot entirely in and around Cincinnati, with Norwood and Hyde Park receiving most of the action. “I wanted this to be a love letter to Cincinnati,” said Brad Wise, a partner in Rebel Pilgrim, who wrote and directed the film.

The company is counting on a Kickstarter-styled fundraising site, called Seatzy, for selling seats to prospective screenings on Sept. 13. The film will appear in any theater where people have pledged to purchase 500 or more tickets. Like a Kickstarter campaign, if it falls short, no money changes hands. Boyd and his partners in Rebel Pilgrim are relying on their connections within faith communities to spread the word.

“I’m a better pastor when it’s not my fulltime job,” said Boyd, who still presents sermons about once a month at Vineyard Cincinnati (through this link, click the "message" below the video screen to watch Boyd at Vineyard).

“We have this theory there are people who want this kinda movie that’s not preachy at them, has a faith element but is done in an authentic way,” Wise said. “We’ve heard that even if these people are out there, we can’t market to them successfully, so success to me will be proving these people wrong.”

“Ultimately, success is being able to do this the rest of our lives, to be able to keep telling stories people want to hear and we want to tell,” Boyd added. “For me, it’s about finding these stories, getting them out there and proving on the economic side it’s a good investment and that we know how to do this.”

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