Menifee math teacher’s film hits store shelves

The film started as the pet project of a local high school teacher. Now, it’s finding its way into DVD players across the country.

Last week, “Defying Gravity” appeared on Barnes & Noble and Blockbuster shelves across the country.

In addition, it became available for purchase through Amazon and rental through Netflix.

The film premiered last year when it showed at 11 film festivals across the country. It received five awards, including Festival’s Choice, Best Narrative Feature, Best LGBT Project, Director’s Choice Award and Best Story/Writing.

Lisa Savy James, a geometry and pre-calculus teacher at Paloma Valley High School in Menifee, was overjoyed to have her film made accessible to such a large audience, she said in an interview last weekend.

“It feels great [to have the film distributed]. I didn’t really expect it because this was my first film and I had no background in filmmaking,” she said.

The film has a positive message, James said, which is an additional reason to be excited.

“I take a lot of pride in that [the film] promotes the message of walking to the beat of your own drummer,” she said.

The film follows the journey of Cassandra (portrayed by Alexandra Mathews), a silent teenaged girl dressed in black.

When she flees an abusive stepfather, she meets the people who will not only save her from her violent family life but help her out of her taciturn shell.

Lola (Willam Belli), a transvestite waitress, befriends Cassandra on her way to the Southern California cemetery in which one of her parents is buried.

Living among the tombstones, Cassandra meets Jorge (Mario Martinez), an undocumented maintenance worker, and Shore (Macauley Gray), a schizophrenic college dropout living in a van near the cemetery.

When Cassandra’s stepfather shows up at the cemetery, she flees with her new friends-turned-protectors in a stolen hearse.

After losing Cassandra among a group of live-action role-playing game fanatics, Jorge and Shore meet up with Lola and set out on a trip to find the missing girl.

James began working on getting a distribution deal – something a filmmaker must have in order for his or her films to be available through mainstream outlets – before the film premiered early last year.

She started by making a list of distributors’ contact information she found online. She then sent out hundreds of kits to attract the attention of a distributor.

Out of those she solicited, she only caught the attention of one, she said.

She met him at a post-production party she organized for her film’s crew in a rented screening room in Hollywood.

“At that point I was thinking it might be our only chance to see it on the big screen,” she said.

Luckily for James, the distributor seemed excited about the movie. Within months, James signed a contract with him to distribute the film.

“All it takes is one guy and he showed up and he liked the movie,” James said.

She feels lucky to have landed a distribution deal because distributors are becoming more selective as high-quality independent films proliferate, she said.

“There are so many more independent films being made. Everybody and their brothers are picking up a camera at Best Buy and making films, and they don’t look half bad,” she said.

Motivated by the success of “Defying Gravity,” James has already started work on her next film, tentatively titled “Dreams I Never Had.”

She wrote the script after reading a story in a newspaper about a pre-teen girl who worked for no money as a servant in the home of an Egyptian-American couple.

“What a remarkable story for a girl to survive and eventually triumph… I just sat down and I wrote it and it took me only about 10 days,” James said.

She gave the script to one of her dear friends, Brian McGoldrick, who has done volunteer legal work for a nonprofit organization that fights human trafficking.

McGoldrick agreed to finance the film immediately, James recalled. She is now organizing auditions for directors and actors.

For more information on James’ upcoming film, visit

For more information on “Defying Gravity,” visit or

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One Response to "Menifee math teacher’s film hits store shelves"

  1. Tim Brown   April 10, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    I saw the movie and it was very good.


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