A New Holiday

‘A New Holiday’ the directorial debut from Brian Owens and first major film project from his Life Creative Group grew out of an idea to celebrate to the milestone birthday of Thelma Steward in a major way despite the restrictions of the pandemic.

What started out as a way to celebrate the 70th birthday of philanthropist and community gem Thelma Steward evolved into what director and co-writer Brian Owens feels is a divinely timed holiday musical film experience.

David Steward, Founder and Chairman of World Wide Technology, had seen Owens’ “Soul of Ferguson Revue” which aired on PBS this summer. He reached out in the hopes of attaining something similar in format to that musical experience and – as per usual – pull out all the stops for his wife’s birthday, which is five days before Christmas. 

“Because of COVID, they couldn’t do what they would normally do,’” Owens said. “I don’t know what happened, but two-and-a-half weeks later this turned into, ‘we are doing a movie with dialogue with characters.’”

“A New Holiday” debuted on the Nine Network Monday, December 21st and will air again on December 23. The film will also be available via Owens’ YouTube Channel.

“It’s a special, special project that I think only could have happened in this time,” Owens said. “I’m excited for people to see the excellence that can happen when a project has a purpose and is tied to something bigger than itself.”

“A New Holiday” tells the story of a little girl named Thelma. She must face her first Christmas without the family matriarch – her beloved grandma Dorothy. Inspired by real-life events, this will be the Stewards first Christmas without Dorothy Steward. She passed away in July. It will also be the first Christmas Owens will experience without his mother Roberta Owens, who passed away in March.

“Knowing that so many people are also dealing with loss and change this year, not even just with COVID, but with life,” Owens said. “My kids are dealing with that this year – their first Christmas without their grandmother.”

Owens co-wrote “A New Holiday” with Broadway veteran and St. Louis native Sophia Stephens.

“Sophia was the driver of this script,” Owens said.

They were building from the idea and the struggle of, “Is Christmas going to feel like Christmas?”

“Because for so many people, traditional Christmas is tied to memories with a special family member or loved one,” Owens said.

Stephens also stars in the film alongside NBC’s “The Voice” finalist Kennedy Holmes, music and stage veteran Anita Jackson and newcomer Riley Adams in the role of little Thelma.

A New Holiday #3

Kennedy Holmes and Riley Adams in "A New Holiday"

Nine-time Grammy Award winner Wynton Marsalis serves as narrator for “A New Holiday” and the film features performances by Grammy Award winners David Sanborn, Karen Clark-Sheard and BeBe Winans. Owens also cowrote the original music with Grammy Award nominee Jarrett Johnson, Charles Ransom and Stephanie Holly. Montez Coleman, Peter Martin and Jahmal Nichols also lend their musical talents to the film Owens says he was able to pull off with the help of so many others – particularly David Steward’s executive assistant Mary Unnerstall.

The film was Owens’ directorial debut. And he admitted that he was initially intimidated because of the pioneering success of David and Thelma Steward’s children within the film industry.

When the 2016 film “Manchester By The Sea” earned a “Best Picture” Academy Award nomination for Kimberly Steward, she was only the second African American woman producer to have a film nominated in the category. Oprah Winfrey was the other woman. David Steward II’s Lion Forge Animation was among the producers to take home “Best Animated Short Film” Oscar gold this year for the Matthew A. Cherry directed short “Hair Love.”

Lion Forge also provided animation for “A New Holiday.”

“To be entrusted with making this – I was humbled,” Owens said. “You have to understand, I have never made anything like this before, and yet they trusted me to do this.

He was thrilled with the outcome of the first major film project for Owens’ Life Creative Group.

For him, the film is also a testament to the caliber of talent and creative excellence that is tied to the region.

“We really can have our own industry,” Owens said. “Sophia walked on set saying, ‘I came from LA, back home to St. Louis to make a film.”

A New Holiday, #2

The Christmas musical ‘A New Holiday’ stars Sophia Stephens, Kennedy Holmes, Anita Jackson, Wynton Marsalis and newcomer Riley Adams. The film debuted on PBS’ Nine Network just ahead of Christmas and was filmed right here in St. Louis.

Through his Life Arts Ecosystem – which includes the for-profit Life Creative Group that offers production services and the non-profit Life Arts Inc. that offers training, mentorship and experience to budding artists – he hopes to see Stephens’ declaration become the rule instead of the exception.

“With all of this talent that we have spread across the country and the world, I pray that we are able to provide opportunities for them to say, ‘I’m coming home to do a film,’” Owens said.

He was also elated to have been able to service PBS with content from Black creatives that presents a universal narrative from the African American perspective.

“I think that is important,” Owens said.

“There is also the excitement in knowing that all of those who were involved will be able to say that they were a part of something that is going to serve as a true blessing for people during this season. To show that no matter what we are going through and dealing with right now, that the true meaning of Christmas is love shining from a baby in a manger – a baby that will grow up and become Savior.” 

“A New Holiday” can be viewed on PBS Nine Network at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, December 23. Check local listings for channel. 

The film can also be seen on YouTube at www.Youtube.com/BrianOwensSoul.

You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.