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Feb. 19-25, 2004
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Five Sisters Productions
Buffalo Natives Produce a Feel-Good Family Film About Rediscovering Hope
Five Sisters Productions released a star-studded film last summer about what happens to a family that experiences a gift from heaven. The Burton sisters and their parents were all involved in the making of the movie –– mother, Gabrielle Burton, is an award-winning novelist and screenwriter, and husband, musician, Roger Burton co-produced the film. The five sisters have a long list of accolades and accomplishments to their credit, including producing, directing and acting, both for the big screen and TV. Ursula Burton, who co-starred in Manna from Heaven, has appeared in “The Ellen Show,” with Ellen DeGeneres, “The Practice,” “Strong Medicine,” and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, to name just a few.
Maria Burton, who directed and acted in Manna from Heaven, appeared in the feature film, Temps, which is currently being developed into a TV series. Charity, Gabrielle and Jennifer Burton also have an impressive list of credentials. Manna from Heaven has a cast that includes veteran performers Shirley Jones, Cloris Leachman, Frank Gorshin, Shelly Duvall and Wendy Malick, among others. In one of the movie’s first scenes, members of a household made up family, friends and freeloaders, find $20 bills literally falling from the sky. After no one claims the money, they decide to split it six ways and use it to pursue their dreams. Twenty-five years later, Sister Theresa Annunciata, the youngest child in the family, decides with the onset of Ash Wednesday that the money she thought had been a gift from God was actually only a loan from Him, and the family has until Easter Sunday to pay it back.
Gabrielle Burton, one of the five sisters of the Burton family, said that her mother came up with the idea for the film when they thought about what it would be like to win the lottery. “We talked about what would happen if you found a bunch of money,” said Burton. “What if no one came after it? Would it answer your dreams? Would it solve your problems?” Burton said the Catholic theme of the movie came from her mother’s strong faith. “My mom is very Catholic. It’s our culture and history,” she said. “None of us realized how Catholic the movie was until we saw it on the big screen. It portrays the feelings we grew up with.” Burton also said that while the movie is based on the Catholic religion, its themes are universal. “They cross culture lines,” she said.
The movie was filmed and set in Buffalo. “The making of the movie echoed the people of Buffalo,” said Burton. “Everyone came together to get it done –– the police department, the mayor and the community.” The mayor of Buffalo even has a cameo role in the movie. Burton said that it was important to the family to bring the movie back to Buffalo because the location was appropriate to the story. “It used to be a wealthy city that has fallen on hard times,” said Burton. Blessed Trinity Church in Buffalo is one of the settings in the movie. “It’s an extraordinary church. The church was wonderfully welcoming,” said Burton. Burton also said that she and her sister both were married there. Father George Reger, pastor of Blessed Trinity knows the Burton family well. He said that the five daughters are wonderful, warm and fun and the cast and crew were delightful. “Cloris Leechman took time to talk to the members of our choir who were part of one scene,” said Father Reger. “Jill Eichenberry and her husband spent a lot of time enjoying the architecture of our church. It was a privilege to have them here. It was both fun and educational,” he said.
Cast member Wendy Malick, who played Nina on TVs “Just Shoot Me,” is also a Buffalo native. Burton said that Malick had a wonderful time showing the cast and crew the sights around Buffalo. Malick also had the opportunity to spend time with her parents, who still live there.
The movie is about redemption and rejuvenation. “The characters cover different arch-types,” said Burton. “On one end there is a nun, on the other a character like Inis, played by Malick, who is a gambler. The movie was filmed during the winter and spring –– from Lent to Easter Sunday. Burton said that they wanted to symbolize the rejuvenation of both the characters and the seasons. Speaking on behalf of all her sisters, Burton said that it’s difficult to make a feel-good movie in modern times. “The industry wants films that are dark and edgy.” She was quick to point out that she doesn’t consider Manna from Heaven a Pollyanna film. “The characters struggle with their own sets of problems. Each of the characters is allowed to become a little bit better,” said Burton.
When asked what message the Burton sisters wanted to portray in the film, Burton quickly answered, “That there is hope at any age. You can realize your dreams. It’s never too late.”