Funded! This project was successfully funded on June 25, 2013.

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A Pentecostal preacher’s admission of atheism scandalizes his small Louisiana town and leads to a quixotic quest.

Project Update: 

Thanks to all of you, last week, we reached our goal of $30,000----in just three weeks! Your enthusiasm and support has been tremendous and we are so grateful and humbled.

But our campaign is still active, until June 25---and we have set ourselves a stretch goal. Success for this new goal will not be measured in dollars, but in number of backers.

Our new goal is to bring at least another 200 supporters onto The Outcast of Beauregard Parish team. In the course of running this Kickstarter campaign, we have learned how much this project matters. This film is not just about Jerry and his quest. It is really about the thousands across America who are afraid to tell people what they believe. We have received dozens of emails, best summarized by this one: "Please make this movie. I am an atheist, but am scared to tell my parents. If they can see this movie maybe they will understand that I am a normal person, just like everyone else."

Comments like these have not only moved us, but galvanized us to build a team of backers who not only will help us make this movie but to show all those people who are afraid to come out as atheists that they have an army behind them. There is strength in numbers and we want to do our small part to help by getting this documentary made, and aired on national TV so the nation can see an honest, sympathetic portrayal of a person who is just like them except for the fact he doesn't believe in god---but believes in humanity.

Therefore, we are asking all our 450+ backers and the Kickstarter community to help us. Find two people who you think would by sympathetic to this cause, who see this form of religious discrimination as part of the next frontier on the civil rights agenda, and ask them to support the film. They do not have to make a large donation---$10 would be wonderful. 

Spread the word!

Thank you!

Best,

The Outcast of Beauregard Parish team

The Film 

Jerry DeWitt had been preaching in and around Beauregard Parish, Louisiana since he was 17 years old. Full of warmth and gifted with electric Pentecostal oratory, he was a popular figure around town. He even planned to run for mayor. But when his 85-year old aunt discovered he was an atheist, the news spread quickly. Within a year he had lost his job, the bank had foreclosed on his house and his wife had left him. 

But Jerry’s story only begins there. Thrust into the limelight by a New York Times profile, he unexpectedly finds himself at the center of a growing but dis-unified secular movement. He quickly learns to navigate the intricate politics of organized atheism and sets an audacious goal: to create a sustainable human-centered ministry in the heart of the Bible Belt. It may be an idea whose time has come. But can it happen in time to save his home and his family? 

Why Should I Care? 

Religion in America is at a crossroads. Polls tell us religious belief is in steep decline. Even in the deep South, increasing numbers of Americans are choosing a life without God. But when nonbelievers come out of the closest in these traditionally religious communities, the consequences can be devastating. Like gays and lesbians, many atheists are scared to reveal their true selves. They fear the reaction of their loved ones and community. And if they do come out, where can they go?  

The Outcast of Beauregard Parish tells the inspiring story of one man who left the Pentecostal faith at great personal cost on his way to building a home for everyone who chooses to live beyond faith in god. After a lifetime of searching for a perfect Christian doctrine, he came to accept that there was no god ⎯- only a deeply human need for meaning. But when doors in DeRidder closed, they opened in new and unlikely places.  Through his work with the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Clergy Project, as well as his speaking engagements all over the country, he has become an important voice in the free-thought movement.     

But it hasn't been easy. This ex-preacher, who had spent decades navigating the denominational thickets of Bible Belt Christianity, is struggling to make sense of a new philosophical landscape. Just as in Christianity, where his passion was Pentecostal but his social leanings were more liberal, Jerry is no easy fit. Unwelcome in the church and ill-at-ease among firebrand atheists, Jerry is a man without a country. 

The Outcast of Beauregard Parish, captures Jerry at this critical moment. He cannot go back to the life he once had. But the way forward is completely unmarked. We see Jerry building a secular congregation in Baton Rouge, which is sure to capture the media’s attention. He is even weighing a possible run for mayor of DeRidder ⎯which, were he to be successful-- would make him one of the only openly atheist politicians in the nation. We want to be there to document his next steps. That’s why we need your help.

I'm Sold. How can I help?

We learned about Jerry when he was featured in a deeply moving New York Times profile by Robert Worth. His situation was so fascinating  that we dropped everything and set off for Louisiana to start filming him. We are glad we did. But our filmmaking journey is only beginning. Jerry’s book is coming out in June, which is likely to change a lot of things for him. In the same week he is planning a major secular service in Baton Rouge, which may be the beginning of the humanist congregation down the road from Bobby Jindal’s statehouse. This means we will need to do a ton of filming in June. And since we are based in California, this all gets expensive fast. Your contribution will allow us to continue filming with Jerry while editing the fundraising reels that we need to approach major funders such as ITVS, Sundance, the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. It’s a lot of work but we hope you’ll agree that getting Jerry’s story to the widest audience is well worth it. Nowadays crowdsourcing is not optional for documentary films. Yes, we need your money but we also need your support to show funders and broadcasters that there is an audience for this kind of film. So even a small contribution helps us make the point. The more contributors the better! 

 OK, how much do you want? 

 Whatever you are comfortable with. You can contribute $25, $250 or $2500. But the more you pledge, the better the goodies! We are offering some great gifts for anyone who donates $25 or more. See the list of gifts at each pledge level along the righthand column.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

Richard Dawkins on Jerry DeWitt:

“The clergyman who sees the light, loses his faith, and realizes that his life’s work has been empty delusion faces worse than inner torment. In small-town America he confronts public ostracism, family break-up, and financial ruin. Such was the predicament of Jerry DeWitt. Brother DeWitt has landed on his feet, but many others still wrestle in the closet with the pain.” — Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion

FAQs

For more information on backing a project, please visit: http://www.kickstarter.com/help/faq/backer+questions

The Team


Jason Cohn, director

Camille Servan-Schreiber, producer

Jackie Krentzman, executive producer

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

All documentary films are subject to the first rule of nature: S*&t Happens. But this one has already proven to be an outlier. Multiple Illnesses, temporary deafness, lost baggage. A giant pot of boiling crawfish even fell on someone’s leg! It’s enough to make a bunch of atheists wonder whether someone isn’t trying to send a message?
But we soldier on. We’ve done this before and we know that it’s never easy. God, or some executive at PBS is always trying to ruin your film. So, we’ve already sunk a bunch of our own time and money into this project. Why? Because we believe in it.

If you want the inside scoop on the biggest challenge facing the filmmakers, it is this: We need to crack the tough nut that is DeRidder, Louisiana. We want to present an intimate and truthful portrayal of life in Jerry’s hometown. Not just the clichés about small-town intolerance, but the real deal. The good, the bad and the ugly. But it’s hard to do that when you live in California and have limited funds. We’ll need to spend a lot of time there to build trust. You can’t “helicopter in” on a story like this.

That’s why we need your help. Your contributions will allow us to really settle down in Southeast Louisiana for long enough to develop relationships and approach the subject in a truly “verite” style. This is the only way to get past the understandable caution of folks in DeRidder, not to mention our own West Coast biases.

FAQ

  • No. But---you do not have to give your full name, nor your real name when you back a project.

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    • You will have our “eternal” gratitude. Seriously. $10 may not seem like a lot but if enough people make these small donations, it will really help!

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    Digital download of the Outcast of Beauregard Parish.

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    Digital download of excerpt from Jerry's upcoming book "Hope After Faith."

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    "Can I Get a Darwin?" T-shirt with The Outcast of Beauregard Parish logo.

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    30 backers Limited (5 left of 35)

    A copy of Jerry Dewitt's memoir, "Hope After Faith," which will be released by DeCapo Press in June.

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    Signed copy of Jerry DeWitt's memoir, "Hope After Faith," which will be released by DaCapo Press in June.

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    Screen credit thank you

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    Two tickets to a screening of The Outcast of Beauregard Parish in a location of your choice (apologies, travel not provided).

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    Personal phone or Skype call with the producers.

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    Community screening with the director of the film and/or Jerry, This is a perfect level for groups that would like to show the film for a fundraiser or other event.

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    Lunch or dinner with Jerry DeWitt (travel not included) and special film credit.

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