STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 08/21/2007

In Focus: Alumni

Paul Van Ness '73 and Bill Collins '71 opened an independent three-screen theater, CinemaSalem, in Salem, Massachusetts, in June 2006. The theater has an art gallery and a café, and Van Ness and Collins hope it will fill a niche. "We'll always want to be playing a great family film, an innovative art film and a quality film out of Hollywood," Van Ness said. The partners are interested in community development in Salem, giving a percentage of their profits each month to a different North Shore nonprofit agency. Van Ness owns Van Ness Creative, a film and video production company in Beverly, Massachusetts. Collins is a video broadcast engineer.

For Van Ness, the opportunity to manage a theater was "part of a conversation I'd been having with God over the last 25 years about what I should be doing with my time, my energy and my gifts." Van Ness has long been fascinated by the power of film: "It's the sum of all art forms, put together synergistically." But it is the communal side of film that particularly interests Van Ness these days. "Movies are something powerful that happen with strangers sitting in the dark, but I want to get people talking about that powerful experience afterward."

On February 23 CinemaSalem hosted one of many events that Van Ness and Collins hope will encourage moviegoers to share the solitary experience of watching a film. The Gordon community gathered for the premiere of the Bristol Bay Production Amazing Grace, which depicts the story of William Wilberforce, whose 20-year crusade led to the abolishment of the British slave trade in 1807. Following the screening guest speaker Kevin Belmonte '90, lead historical consultant for the film, addressed the audience with a special "Thoughts on the Film" talk.

Paul Van Ness (left) and Bill Collins have a lot in common: their time at Gordon in the early 70s, careers in film and videography, and now a new business. The partners are pictured in the lobby of the newly renovated CinemaSalem. 


Although Rob Graves '00 always loved music, he didn't like the idea of becoming a musician--he didn't want to work at places like Starbucks to support himself. So while he was at Gordon he double-majored in premedical biology and theology.

"When Rob was a biology major we used to sit in my office and play guitar together," recalls Russell Camp, professor of biology. "He is one of the most talented musicians I have ever known."

Graves wanted to become a surgeon or medical researcher. But everyone in his life, including his father, was telling him to pursue music. In 2001 he moved to Nashville with his wife and wasn't even fully unpacked when Reunion Records hired him to remix Bryan Duncan songs for radio play. Later he established himself by writing the single "Surrender" for Joy Williams, working alongside Brown Bannister, a Christian music producer best known for his work with Amy Grant. 

Then a member of the rock band Red asked him to help them out. Over the next two years Graves and the band worked together writing songs and developing a style for the band.

The result was the album End of Silence, which debuted in June 2006 under Essential Records. It quickly climbed the Christian rock charts; the first single, "Breathe into Me," reached number one and stayed there for six weeks.

This year Red was Grammy-nominated for the best rock or rap gospel album. Although the band did not win the Grammy, being nominated was a milestone. But the most gratifying part, Graves says, "is to see people affected by the music and to feel the power of the music."

More on this story: Gordon Grad Makes a Name for Himself In Nashville

REQUIEM FOR DARFUR A Concert at Carnegie Hall

On Monday, January 22, 2007, Sarah Herman Heltzel '01 sang at a fundraising performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Messa da Requiem at Carnegie Hall, New York City. The performance was presented by the Democracy Council to benefit the people of Darfur and served as a memorial for the thousands of people who lost their lives while mobilizing critical funds for humanitarian relief, recovery and advocacy efforts. Requiem for Darfur will foster an ongoing series of performances, events and media coverage of the human suffering in Western Sudan. Current Gordon students are actively involved in raising awareness of this crisis in the Sudan. Junior Brandon Sabbag leads the Gordon College Save Darfur Movement.  


Pete Holmes '01 got his comedic start writing and cartooning for Gordon's student newspaper, the Tartan, and by founding the on-campus improvisational comedy troupe the Sweaty-Toothed Madmen. He has since gained notoriety in the New York City stand-up scene as well as in regular appearances on Comedy Central and VH1's Best Week Ever. On February 23 Pete performed his first stand-up act at Gordon since graduating. The Campus Events Council's comedy night drew a large crowd, nearly filling the entire chapel. Holmes' act included custom-tailored Gordon comedy the audience of current and former students could relate to as well as the original material that has driven his popularity. His observational humor is easily accessible to a diverse audience. Holmes' act was highly appreciated and a great model of the power of the creative imagination. 


Pete Holmes 01
Paul Van Ness
Rob Graves 00