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Uncommon Kindness: The Father Damien Story

A biography of Father Damien De Veuster, who helped leprosy patients marooned on Hawaii's Molokai island.

Genre - Documentary

Director(s) - Walter Josten, Stephanie J. Castillo and Daniel Marra

Writer(s) - Walter Josten, Stephanie J. Castillo and Daniel Marra

Cast - Robin Williams

Blue Rider's Role - Executive producers

Distributor(s) - Blue Rider Pictures

Synopsis - Narrated by Robin Williams, this compelling DVD biography chronicles the life of renowned humanitarian Father Damien De Veuster. Accompanied by the music of Keola Beamer, the film examines the journey from his childhood in Belgium to his legendary missionary work. Transported to the quarantined Hawaiian island of Molokai in 1883, Father Damien dedicated the rest of his life to the sufferers of Hansen's disease (leprosy), the most feared malady of the time.

Honors for Uncommon Kindness:
Uncommon Kindness played several film festivals and won the Cine Golden Eagle Award.

Critics' Kudos:
Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide:
"Acclaimed actor Robin Williams narrates this heartfelt look at a Belgian priest whose selfless determination to ease the suffering of others came at the height of Hawaii's horrific leprosy epidemic. The year was 1872 and leprosy was sweeping through the Hawaiian islands. In a desperate bid to isolate the disease and prevent it from spreading any further than it already had, the government quickly established a bleak and remote leprosy settlement on the island of Molokai. Abandoned by their fellow man and forced to live on an island that had no medical care, scarce food and minimal shelter, the quarantined population of Molokai seemed doomed to die an unimaginable death. Despite the perceived loss of hope in that dark hour, relief would soon come when in 1883 a youthful Belgian priest requested to be transferred to the island in order to care for the ailing leprosy victims. In the years that followed Father Damien would serve as an angel of mercy to hundreds of suffering people whose slow and grueling deaths would have otherwise been as lonely as they were painful."

Major Cast and Crew Credits and Awards:

Co-written, co-directed and produced by Blue Rider co-founder Walter Josten (executive produced or produced Silver Wolf, Shergar, Wake Behind the Red Door and 30 other films and TV projects; co-wrote Night of the Demons and Pucker Up and Bark Like a Dog); Stephanie J. Castillo (writer of An Untold Triumph: America's Filipino Soldiers) and Daniel Marra (debut).

Also produced by Jeff Geoffray (Around the World in 80 Days, Cord, Slow Burn and 24 other films and TV projects) and Edwin Santiago (debut).

Beloved Hawaiian slack key guitarist, singer and composer Keola Beamer wrote, produced and scored The Shimmering; scored Far Harbor; starred in KiHo Alu-Keola Beamer and performed in George Winston: Seasons in Concert.

Narrator Robin Williams won an Oscar for Good Will Hunting, was Oscar nominated for The Fisher King, Dead Poet's Society and Good Morning Vietnam; he won 37 other awards and 41 other nominations for works including One Hour Photo, Insomnia, Jumanji, Aladdin, Toys, Patch Adams, Mrs. Doubtfire, Flubber, Bicentennial Man, Robin Williams Live on Broadway, Awakenings, Mork & Mindy, Moscow on the Hudson and The Birdcage.

Father Damien Canonized on Oct. 11 2009:
Belgian priest Father Damien de Veuster, who ministered to 8,000 leprosy sufferers exiled to a remote section of Molokai by the Hawaiian government in the late 19th Century, was canonized as a saint on October 11, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI. Father Damien was the subject of an award-winning 2003 Blue Rider Documentary, UNCOMMON KINDNESS: THE FATHER DAMIEN STORY, narrated by Robin Williams. Blue Rider has also developed a feature script about Father Damien from the award-winning novel MOLOKAI by O.A. Bushnell.

More than 10,000 people attended the Vatican ceremony, including the woman whose miraculous cancer cure was attributed to her praying to Damien. Another 40,000 people waited outside in St. Peter's Square.

Born in Belgium, Damien went to Hawaii in the 1870s in place of his ailing brother. At that time, the kingdom of Hawaii banished its leprosy patients to Kalaupapa, a 5-square-mile village on the island of Molokai. Because of the stigma attached to the disease, society ostracized the patients and doctors refused to treat them.
Damien voluntarily served as pastor therefor 16 years. He died at age 49 after contracting Hansen's disease, which was then called leprosy. Today the 25 remaining residents of the colony have all been cured.

President Barack Obama has hailed Father Damien's work with Hansen's Disease patients as inspiring those helping AIDS sufferers today. Obama urged people to follow Damien's example by "answering the urgent call to heal and care for the sick."

Father Bruno Benati, general postulator of Father Damien's cause, announced in 2008 that the Congregation for Saints' Causes ruled that a Hawaiian womanís cure from cancer was a miracle linked to her prayers to Father Damien (1840-1889). Audrey Toguchi was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer. She prayed to Father Damien and was cured, which doctors declare was not accomplished solely by medical means.

Born Jozef De Veuster, Damien entered the novitiate of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Leuven, Belgium, and took the name Damianus -- Damiaan in Dutch -- in his first vows. Damien was sent as a missionary to Honolulu in 1864, and shortly afterward was ordained a priest.

Father Damien worked for several years in Hawaii before asking for permission to be assigned to Kalaupapa, a leprosy settlement on the island of Molokai, where some 8,000 people had been banished amid an epidemic in Hawaii in the 1850s.

He arrived on May 10, 1873. His first task was to build a Church and establish the Parish of St. Philomena. Besides his responsibilities as pastor, the priest also attended to the community's medical needs, built homes and beds, and even coffins, and dug graves. He is also attributed with being a great community leader who enforced laws and organized farms and schools.

Father Damien was 49 when he died of leprosy on April 15, 1889. He was declared blessed in 1995. Today the illness is known as Hansen's Disease.

"Father Damien went to Hawaii knowing that he could never return," The Rev. Alfred Bell, who spearheaded Damien's canonization cause, told Vatican Radio. "He suffered a lot, but he stayed."

Bell said Damien's concern for others was a model for all the faithful today, particularly the young.

"Father Damien's example helps us to not forget those who are forgettable in the world," he said.

Co-Director Stephanie Castillo's blog on Robin Williams and Uncommon Kindness (at The Honolulu Advertiser's website):
I am among those who have been waiting a very long time for Damienís canonization. Back in 1995, a colleague and I were sure it was coming soon, and so we decided to write and produce a video biography about Damien as a follow up to my 1993 Emmy Award-winning documentary, "Simple Courage," which focused on the Hawaiíi leprosy epidemic and Damienís intervention.

A Hollywood movie production company, Blue Rider Pictures, offered to team up with us as co-producers. They had their own Damien movie in the works, a feature film, which was to star Robin Williams as Damien. They thought we should ask Robin to narrate the documentary, as a way to prepare the marketplace for the Damien feature.

When I tell people about directing the famous Oscar-awarded Williams as he recorded the narration for our documentary, "An Uncommon Kindness: The Father Damien Story," they always want to know:

What was he like? Robin entered the recording studio quietly Ė no big shtick, no loud jokes, just a quiet hello when we greeted him. I didnít expect him to be so polite, so humble, and so down-to-earth.

Did he cut up like he does in his movies or on TV? His work that day was very professional. And yes he did cut up, but it was interesting to see when he cut up. When he flubbed a Hawaiian word, or when he ran out of breath reading a line too long, or when he misread something. We were in stitches a lot of those four hours and felt we were having our own private comedy show.

Iím sure this funny man will be thinking of Damien on that solemn day of canonization.

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