No matter what your religious background may be, director Patricia Riggen (“The 33”) says her new faith-based film “Miracles from Heaven” is a story everyone can relate to and be inspired by. In the film, Riggen, 45, tells the true story of Annabel Beam, a 12-year-old girl in Texas who many people believe was saved by the power of God.
Suffering from an intestinal condition that did not allow her to digest food properly, Annabel was inexplicably found to no longer have the disease after falling 30 feet from a tree. She later reveals to her parents that after her fall, she visited Heaven. The film was adapted from the book “Miracles from Heaven: A Little Girl, Her Journey to Heaven, and Her Amazing Story of Healing,” written by Annabel’s mother, Christy.
During our interview, Riggen, who was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, talked about the recent rise in productions of faith-based movies and whether or not a belief in God is necessary to enjoy her new film.
Why do you think we’ve seen more faith-based films hit theaters in the last few years?
I think there are a lot of bad movies out there and a lot of movies that don’t have a meaning or a message. There are a lot of movies that just don’t communicate anything to the audience and don’t make you grow into a better person. I think people really want to have an option to see things that are inspirational and have a good message and that you can take your kids to see. I think people are yearning for movies that have some goodness as opposed to really violent stories.
Do you think it’s your job as a filmmaker to communicate something with meaning to an audience?
Every director is different. I have a lot of respect for all of them. There are a lot of great movies out there in different genres. I, personally, have always made movies that are very optimistic and have a big heart and that are emotional. The kinds of movies I like to make are ones that make you grow and make you learn something. I like to show the good side of human beings, not the dark side. I did that in other movies like “Under the Same Moon” (“La Misma Luna”) and “The 33.” [“Miracles from Heaven”] allowed me to do that once again. This one is particularly uplifting.
What were your initial thoughts when you heard about the Beam family’s story?
The first time I heard about it, I thought it was absolutely incredible. I’m a big believer in things that are unusual and cannot be explained. I think it is part of my upbringing and my culture to believe in miracles. I was very interested in exploring it. I wanted to make sure this event was very rooted in reality and was not a supernatural thing.
Did your religious background play a part in deciding to make this film?
Not really. I was raised Catholic. I’m a filmmaker and a storyteller, so when I see a good story, that is the most important thing for me. That’s why I make all kinds of movies, not just religious movies. In fact, this movie is not very religious. It’s very spiritual. I think it allows anyone from any faith or no faith at all to see it and understand it and relate to it. That was my intention from the very beginning – to really find the universality of the event.
Do you think what the Beam family’s experienced was proof that God exists?
I don’t know if we need to prove that God is real. I think what [Annabel’s experience] proved is that amazing and beautiful things happen in our world. It proves that you must not lose hope. I think [the film] really conveys the message that there is a lot of goodness around us and that we need to keep our eyes open to it.
What would you say to people who don’t believe what the Beam family experienced was a miracle?
I respect that. I think it’s open to interpretation. For some of us it’s a miracle. For others it might be a coincidence or something that happens by chance. That’s fine, too. Everyone is allowed to think whatever they want. The movie allows us to do that. For some people, there could be a scientific explanation to it. I’ve seen people from all faiths watch [“Miracles from Heaven”] and they all have a very emotional, very human reaction to it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a believer or not. It’s a very inclusive movie. You don’t have to believe in God to believe that something like this can happen.
Were you disappointed that your last film, “The 33,” did not get a bigger reception? I’m assuming it was released late in the year because the studio thought it might have a chance at awards consideration.
I think the movie might not have come out at the right time. I think it’s a beautiful movie, but I’m saddened by the fact that not many people watched it. I hope it gets discovered later on in its life like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” I hope “The 33” gets a second chance. Like many other movies in the history of cinema, it just didn’t have the right [release] date or the right kind of marketing.