For Stephen Cone, church has always been a part of life. The son of a Baptist minister, he remembers going there three times a week for 18 years. In the same breath, Cone is also a self-proclaimed lifelong lover of film, with movies and religion playing an equal role in his youth. Now an adult and a filmmaker, Cone has joined these two elements of his adolescence together for his most recent project, The Wise Kids.
The film, which was shot in Charleston last summer, will come back to the Holy City for its hometown premiere on Sat. Nov. 19 at the Hippodrome Cinema.
Cone, who wrote, directed, and even stars in the film, is a self-taught filmmaker. Spending his childhood in Columbia and his teenage years in Florence, he became involved with theater, and when he relocated from South Carolina to Chicago in 2004, he dabbled some more in theater writing and directing while his family remained in Charleston. But he knew all the while that he would someday end up in film. That day came in 2005.
“There was one moment where I said to myself, ‘Okay, I’m going to start making movies,’” he says. He credits the years that followed as his training. During this time, Cone created about one film per year, including short films Church Story, Young Wives, and 7 Experiments; his medium-length feature debut The Christians; and his first full-length feature In Memoriam.
The Wise Kids is Cone’s second feature-length project. The religious drama, about life in a faith-based Charleston community, has already won eight awards at festivals nationwide and received a favorable review from film critic Roger Ebert. It ruminates on a myriad of issues in the lives of its three main characters: There’s Brea, a pastor’s daughter with a brooding mind and growing religious uncertainty; Laura, Brea’s best friend and an unwavering believer; and Tim, the son of a single father who is reluctantly coming to grips with his own homosexuality. Each character is trapped in the awkward age between high school and college, searching for their identity while struggling to remain true to their upbringing.
Cone admits that The Wise Kids is semi-autobiographical, stating that he “experienced some of it, and some of it is speculation and curiosity, wondering about people [he] grew up with.” He touches on the film’s “message,” stating that with this particular film, he wanted to create something that would forge greater understanding and communication between people with different ways of thinking. “I hope that people will have a deeper human empathy for people that don’t believe what they do,” he says. With that being said, Cone added that the film doesn’t make any statements, and hopes that its lack of a sermonizing approach is a positive thing.
With half of the film’s crew coming from Chicago and the other half from Charleston, Cone’s movie is in the interesting position of having two hometowns. Having premiered in the Windy City Nov. 3 — opening the 30th Reeling Film Festival with great fanfare — the thought of having a second premiere in the same month is thrilling to Cone and his crew, who ultimately wanted to create a sense of community with The Wise Kids. “This is Charleston’s movie,” Cone says. “This movie was made out of a great love on my part for South Carolina in particular, and we can’t wait to share the film with Charleston.”
The Wise Kids will have an opening gala premiere at the Hippodrome (360 Concord St.) on Sat. Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for general admission or $25 for VIP and the after-party. There will be a matinee screening of the film at 3 p.m. on Sun. Nov. 20. You can purchase tickets here.