A lot of couples can point to the aha moment when they knew they were made for each other. For Jenn Gotzon, it was when she found out what a "pig slop jar" was for.
Not only did that moment confirm her feelings for Jim E. Chandler, her future husband, an actor and filmmaker, but it also inspired her to create a Christmas movie, "The Farmer and the Belle: Saving Santaland," now available on video on demand, cable and DVD.
She made this momentous discovery while visiting the Chandler family's farm in McLemore Cove at the foot of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga Valley.
"No, I had no idea what those jars were there for," she recalled recently with a big laugh.
Gotzon was working as a fashion model when she and Chandler met on a photo shoot in China in 2014. She had been hired as a spokesperson for hair and makeup products, and her images were on billboards across Asia and Russia.
With years in the public eye, Gotzon said she thought she knew what beauty was all about, but she ended up finding the meaning of inner beauty after helping feed the pigs during the visit.
A "city girl" who had never seen a pig, much less fed a pig, it had never occurred to Gotzon that not only could table scraps be saved, but that there could be a process to it. In this case, sealing them in a jar. She'd also never considered that such a jar might not smell like a runway.
"It smelled horrible," she said.
It was a big turning point in her life, her career and her relationship with Chandler. The two have since married, and Gotzon used the moment to conceive of the idea for a movie. It was filmed in part in North Georgia a year and a half ago.
The farm in McLemore Cove, which has been in Chandler's family since 1918, provided "the perfect place to film this," Chandler said. "It saved us a little money, but it also allowed us to involve family and people in Chickamauga and Chattanooga. It was perfect."
On its surface, it is a classic Hallmark type of film. During filming at Cloudland Station in Chattanooga Valley, director Wes Llewellyn described it as all about "Christmas, Christmas, Christmas and then a little more Christmas to make it sweet."
But the film digs a little deeper than boy meets girl, boy loses girl for a minute, girl returns to a small town because of a major change in her career, girl discovers there is some animosity or miscommunication between the two and finally the two get together during a scene that involves snow, even though they are in the deep South. You know the drill.
"The Farmer and the Belle" has all of that, of course, but it's about looking deeper and finding the inner beauty that everyone possesses.
"Young Belle at age 10 gets this bracelet that has been passed down in her family for years," Gotzon said. "It has these charms that say things like 'Beauty is on the inside,' and she goes to Santaland and loses it in the pig sty, and later she is at the end of her career and is aging out as a model."
With nowhere to go, Belle decides to overcome her fears of the farm. When she returns, she falls in love with her childhood pen pal, finds the bracelet, learns what true beauty is and ends up saving the town's beloved Santaland festival.
"The main thing was to help teen girls and other women," Gotzon said of the film, "And it's dressed up as Christmas magic and family fun and ends with a goodhearted feeling.
"One of the bracelet charms says, 'Use whatever gifts you receive to serve others,' and when we know what those gifts are, we realize what our most attractive things are," she said, adding that it is not about having great hair or great makeup, but having a joyful heart.
Actor John Schneider, who also has a movie out this month with a local connection, performs two songs in the film and on the soundtrack. [See related story.]
"John sings an original song called 'Spirit of Christmas' and 'Holly Jolly Christmas,' and it is just so much fun," Gotzon said.
"I love this movie, and I love those guys," Schneider said of Gotzon and Chandler.
The soundtrack is just one part of the marketing campaign for the film. There's also a Beauty Bracelet that features five charms, each with two statements about the true nature of beauty. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Point Hope, a nonprofit organization founded by national radio personality Delilah.
There is also a 30-day devotional and study program called "Divine Beauty: Becoming Beautiful Based on God's Truth" by Michelle Cox and Gotzon with online video Bible studies available, as well as a children's book that reinforces the film's message called "Beautiful Mable," written by Mike Nawrocki, a co-creator of "VeggieTales," and illustrated by Sara Jo Floyd.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.