Culture

Pensacola ties to "A Journey Within"

This weekend, you can save a life just by going to the movies. 

“Tanzania: A Journey Within,” a new feature documentary directed by Sylvia Caminer and produced by Pensacola natives Burton Ritchie and Ben Galecki of Heretic Films, makes its Gulf Coast premiere May 30 at Movies 4 Gulf Breeze.

Proceeds from each ticket will purchase a life-saving dose of malaria medication in Africa.

“Tanzania: A Journey Within,” documents the journey of two unlikely friends, Kristen Kenney, a privileged young American woman, and Venance Ndibalema, a Tanzanian scientist/philosopher, as they travel across Tanzania.

Watch the trailer here:

That trip, and Kristen’s bout with malaria there, inspired her to create Malaika For Life (malaikaforlife.org), a business that sells bracelets made by Tanzanian women. Proceeds from each bracelet sold provide life-saving treatment for one African suffering from malaria – hence their slogan “Buy a Bracelet, Save a Life.” To date, Malaika For Life has saved more than 22,000 lives and has caught the attention and support of celebrities such as Mandy Moore and NBA star Metta World Peace.

Hoping to recreate the success of that campaign, the filmmakers launched  “Buy A Movie Ticket, Save a Life” in conjunction with the theatrical release of “Tanzania: A Journey Within,” in April.

“’Buy a ticket save a life’ was such a clear-cut mission for us,” Ritchie said. “Much of the show business success I’ve had is the result of doing the right thing. I got into it so I could get involved with projects and support projects that were doing the right thing.”

“If we don’t make a penny on this project it was by far worth doing,” he said. “Being able to save lives isn’t something that I get to do every day.”

Ritchie’s own journey from Pensacola businessman to movie producer could play as a self-made success story.

Ritchie had run a series of successful businesses in Pensacola, everything from the Psychedelic Shack chain to construction companies to an online yoga business.

He and Galecki founded Heretic Films less than two years ago with the goal of producing important, thought-provoking independent films with strong, recognized talent. Shortly after the company’s inception, comedian/actor/writer Kevin Pollak joined the team.

“I never thought I could be in show business, but looking back it’s all I ever wanted to do,” he said.

The Ritchie family moved to Park City, where, Ritchie says, “I had some really, really fortunate meetings with people.”

“I was an entrepreneur in Pensacola for 25 years,” he said. “And when you look at what a producer does, he takes an individual business, in this case a movie, and makes sure it is being run correctly, that it has the right insurance and that you are hiring the right people, those kinds of things. A lifetime of being an entrepreneur ideally suited me to be a producer.”

Although there were “a million things to learn,” Ritchie said, “Each film is a business, and you have to optimize in a way that will maximize the opportunity.”

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “Rarely a day goes by that I don’t pinch myself. Kevin Pollack was a hero of mine growing up and now we are co-producing movies. He’s a member of my company! I was asked to be on the advisory board for the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Geena Davis! That’s not real – except it’s real!”

Doing business in Pensacola also prepared him for Hollywood-style success in an unexpected way.

“It was really valuable coming from the south, coming from a ‘handshake is your word’ mentality,” Ritchie said. “That level of transparency is appreciated because it’s the not the norm. Doing what I say I’m going to do has had some very large rewards.”

“Tanzania” recently opened in New York and Los Angeles and it is being added to more theaters nationwide.

Their picture “Low Down,” directed by Jeff Preiss and starring John Hawkes, Elle Fanning, Glenn Close, Peter Dinklage, Flea, Caleb Landry Jones and Taryn Manning recently won Best Cinematography at Sundance and has been picked up for worldwide distribution.

Their film “Copenhagen,” directed by Mark Raso, won Best Picture at Slamdance Film Festival, Gasparilla International Film Festival and the Tampa International Film Festival. It is being eyed for distribution. And their film “Big Significant Things,” was well received at the 2014 Film SXSW.

While Ritchie said he misses friends and fishing on the Gulf Coast, when he gets too lonely he’s now able to bring friends to Park City to share his success.

“I like to ski,” Ritchie said. “It doesn’t suck.”

Tanzania: A Journey Within

May 30-June 5, 2014

Movies 4 Gulf Breeze

1175 Gulf Breeze Parkway, Gulf Breeze

This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise.