Twin sisters Adamma Ebo and Adanne Ebo made their feature film debut at Sundance with “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul,” a faux documentary inspired by their Southern Baptist upbringing in Atlanta.
“We, very quickly, I think, from a young age, got disillusioned with it and started questioning and thinking critically about it,” writer-director Adamma told Steve Pond at TheWrap’s virtual Sundance studio. “So we decided there was so much reckoning, I think, within ourselves about it, that this was the area I think to explore.”
The filmmakers were joined in the interview by cast members Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall.
Adapted from the Ebo sisters’ short film by the same name, the feature stars Hall as Trinitie Childs, first lady of an Atlanta Megachurch, and Brown as pastor Lee-Curtis Childs. After a sex scandal causes a mass exodus of followers, the couple’s Wander the Greater Path Baptist Church shuts down, leaving them scrambling to devise a comeback. Which, naturally, they hire a documentary crew to film.
The filmmakers use the pastor’s decision to chronicle his redemption as a vehicle for satire.
“We’ve seen similar subject matters explored through media, a lot, and it’s always told always through a dramatic lens. We wanted to kind of Trojan horse the message in there, and we did that through comedy. We also didn’t want to come off as too preachy,” said Adanne, who produced the film alongside Pinky Promise and 59% Productions.
The freedom to improvise was particularly welcome for Brown. “There was room to play. Our director sort of insisted on it,” he explained.
“It was undoubtedly fun,” added Hall, who stars in a second film at this year’s festival, “Master.” When Pond brought up a scene from “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul” that takes place in a pool involving Hall’s toes, ripples of laughter erupted. “You should have seen Sterling getting ready for that one!” Hall said.
“I was eyeing Little Bit’s toes — that’s Regina,” Sterling said, laughing. “I was like, ‘Am I going to pop this toe in my mouth? I’ll see how it feels in the moment.’ I was like, ‘They were clean and she had taken care of them.’ So you’re not just doing this on a whim!”
Another memorable scene finds Trinitie wearing thick white makeup on her face while praising and shouting, a form of spiritual dance popular in some Black churches. Hall noted that the scene was an uncomfortable one. “You’re doing it in front of all those people in that makeup and everyone’s watching you,” she said.
Adamma added: “There was a level of discomfort and frustration from Regina when she was in the makeup that made the scene perfect.”
“Trinitie, she’s long-suffering,” Hall added. “She’s there for the rise, the fall, and everything in between.”
Watch the interview above.
TheWrap’s Sundance Studio is presented by NFP and National Geographic Documentary Films.