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Area Women Plan Documentary Film About Hit Man Turned Hero

Barbara Madison and Sarah Schaeffer Bernard will travel this spring to Nicaragua with director Dan Parris to begin filming.

Two women plan to make a documentary film about a murderer who became a minister.

His name is Oscar. Barbara Madison and Sarah Schaeffer Bernard, the producers, declined to identify his last name for safety reasons. 

Madison, a registered nurse, first met him in January 2011 during a mission trip to Nicaragua with , where she is a member. She spent 35 years in nursing and runs a home-care agency. In part, she visited Nicaragua to again perform hands-on work. There, she conducted a workshop on vicarious trauma, a term that refers to the hurt humanitarian workers experience after treating patients.

During her stay, Madison had the opportunity to work with Oscar and hear his story.

It was, she said, "so powerful that I couldn't get it out of my mind."

A dark past, a new life

In his teens, Oscar served as a Sandanista guerrilla. He trained in Cuba to become a hit man. He served as Daniel Ortega's bodyguard, Madison said. He became addicted to drugs.

But then a transformation occurred, she said. Oscar became a Christian. He gave up drugs and drinking. He devoted his life to love and service to others.

Now Oscar, his wife and two other people run House of Hope, an organization that helps women leave prostitution. Every day, Madison said, he goes into the brothel district and preaches to the open windows.

The women listen there and talk with him. He invites them to a Bible study held on Tuesdays.

At first, between 12 and 25 attended each week. Now, more than 400 come. The organization also builds houses where the women and there children can stay. They receive clothing and food, and their children attend school. They can graduate from the program with a job, and directors hope to build a sewing factory.

Bernard suggests a film

In July last year, Madison returned to Nicaragua, this time with Bernard, as part of a second mission trip.

Bernard had heard about Oscar. She suggested they interview him on film and use the footage to pitch a full-length movie.

Already, Madison had been looking for someone who could write a book about him.

Together, they captured him talking about his past on video. They used it to recruit a director.

Securing Dan Parris

Dan Parris will direct the film. Parris grew up in West County. His first feature-length documentary, Give A Damn?, received the award for best documentary at St. Louis Cinema Showcase 2011 and played at the St. Louis International and Heartland film festivals. It will show at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Missouri History Museum.

Parris also has directed more than 100 short films for businesses, churches and other organizations.

Both women read about him in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article and agreed to ask for his help. They visited during a screening of Parris' film at the and twice met for coffee.

They showed Parris the video footage of Oscar they had captured. It hooked him: Oscar spoke openly about things most people wouldn't be comfortable discussing.

"That's very key," Parris said.

His story has drama and conflict, and the film has "potential for impact" to address human trafficking, he said. Too, there are few documentaries about Latin America, specifically Nicaragua.

Partnering with the Regional Arts Commission

Hit Man to Hero is the first film to receive sponsorship from the St. Louis-based .

The filmmakers have been working with Deputy Director Dan Tierney on the project.

On Friday, the organization hosted a kickoff party for the film that included music and food. Madison and Bernard arranged easels bearing the film's logo and a photo of Oscar. They visited with Parris about speeches they planned to give.

The team is looking to raise $200,000, which would cover all costs for producing the film.

Madison and Schaeffer have been speaking with everyone they meet about the project. They are clear that the film will come to fruition.

"It's an opportunity that's been given to us divinely," Madison said.

Planning for filming and distribution

While the three are keeping the filming timeline vague for safety reasons, Parris said, they plan to visit Nicaragua once this spring, again in the summer and possibly in the fall. The goal is to complete the film this year.

To prepare, Parris has been reading up on the history of war in Nicaragua. He has researched human trafficking in the past.

Once the film is made, the producers plan to submit it to film festivals and pursue grassroots methods such as showing it at colleges. They'll also explore theatrical, TV and online streaming options.

The road ahead

Madison and Bernard want the film to explore Oscar's life before and after his transformation.

They want viewers to see the life that lies inside each person.

"Living an authentic life is the most important thing that we can do," Madison said. "We can all make a difference."

Follow the progress of the film by following @HitManToHero on Twitter or the Hit Man to Hero page on Facebook. Those interested in partnering on the film may contact Bernard by calling 314-753-3552 or emailing Sarah@HitManToHero.com.

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