Indie Film Company, A Family Affair

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(Above left: Burton with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter. Above right: Gabrielle C. Burton hammers away on a Women Build project in Missouri, USA, for Heartland Habitat for Humanity.)

Former Rotary Scholar Gabrielle C. Burton and her four sisters make critically acclaimed movies that promote community involvement and social responsibility — not your typical indie film fare. But Five Sisters Productions isn’t your average production company.

“Independent movies often feel pressure to be bleak and despairing,” Burton says. “We believe there’s a place for that but, ultimately, the true power of social change is having a sense that things can change for the better.”

The Los Angeles-based film company is a real family affair. In addition to Burton’s sisters — Charity, Jennifer, Maria, and Ursula — her mother and father, Gabrielle B. and Roger Burton, are coproducers. Burton credits the Ambassadorial Scholarships program with playing a lead role in her film career. She studied film at the University of Toulouse in France, where she received a professional studies degree with high honors for her work. The Rotary Club of Amherst South, New York, USA, sponsored her.

“It was a fantastic introduction into a field and culture that I wouldn’t have explored without the scholarship,” says Burton. “It changed my life.”

Making films with heart has proved to be a winning formula for Five Sisters Productions. Its second movie, Temps, which Burton wrote, produced, and acted in, won multiple film-festival awards. It’s scheduled for release on DVD in 2007, along with the company’s first film, Just Friends.

Manna from Heaven, its third feature film, was screened by the U.S. Congress and chosen by the Toronto International Film Festival Group to open in theaters across Canada as part of its Film Circuit. Burton and her family went on the road for nearly two years promoting the film. During their travels, they also worked with Habitat for Humanity.

“We decided that since we were going to spend that much time on the road, we’d like to connect with a charitable organization that has the same idea [as the film] about a community coming together to rebuild itself,” says Burton. In addition to making financial contributions, the family helped build homes.

Five years after the film’s release, Manna from Heaven continues to open in new markets and garner support for charitable organizations. In December, Burton attended a screening of the movie at the Strand Theatre in Delaware, Ohio, USA, to benefit the local United Way. The power of people to bring about change is a key element of the sisters’ films. But for this family, it’s more than just a story line.

Today, Five Sisters Productions continues to support Habitat for Humanity and other charities while pursuing a variety of film projects. Learn how you can bring Manna from Heaven to your city and use the film to raise money for a club project at