Don Rodrigues, who owns and operates Don Rodrigues Karate Academy at 190 Commerce Drive in Warwick with his wife of 22 years, Christine Bannon-Rodrigues, is getting a kick out of a family action-adventure film he produced, “Champions of the Deep: The Sword of the Sea.” He’s also thrilled that members of his family, including Bannon and three of his sons, are part of the movie. Bannon choreographed its high-energy fight scenes, and his sons appear in the film. Many of his friends participated in the movie, too.
“It was a fun project for me because I was able to get a lot of the people I know to get involved,” Rodrigues said during an interview at his dojo Tuesday morning. “It was a great experience. I’ve done a lot of different things in the martial arts, from coaching to being inducted into halls of fame, but this is the first time I did a movie. It was great seeing my family on the set.”
While Bannon choreographed the fight sequences, their son, Dante, 14, starred as the best friend to the two lead actors of the movie, Dayna Huor of Iowa and Tyler Weaver Jr. of Colorado, who are both world-renowned youth martial artists. The children perform their own stunts in the film.
For Dante, who recently won first place in one division and second place in another against talented children from across the country in a tournament this past weekend in Washington, D.C., filming the movie was quite the experience.
“I got to know a lot of people and we had a lot of fun on set,” said Dante, who will enter 10th grade at Coventry High School this year. “When we were filming, I was trying really hard not to laugh because we were having a lot of fun.”
Like his mother, whose stunt work has been featured in Hollywood blockbuster titles like “Underdog,” “Batman & Robin” and “The Next Karate Kid,” among others, Dante is interested in pursuing a career in the film industry.
“I’d like to do another one,” he said. “Everyone was there together. Through the whole movie, the cast members and stunt workers was like a big family. That was the best part.”
Additionally, Dante’s younger brother, Niko, 11, is an extra in the movie, and his stepbrother, Christopher, 32, plays the film’s villain.
Huor and Weaver play the roles of May and Max Champion, siblings who practice the water style of martial arts, which was specially crafted for the movie, and use it to protect their beloved ocean.
After finding a relic on the shore belonging to The Sword of the Sea, Max and May must face a villain who is battling for control of the sword. The duo team up with Kalyko, played by Caitlin Dechelle, in their quest to defeat the villain and return the sword to its home in the sea.
“The kids find the sword and the monster battles them for it,” Rodrigues said.
The film also features Rodrigues’ friend, Keith Cooke, in the role of the children’s’ teacher. Cooke, who Rodrigues described as an “extraordinary martial artist,” starred in the hit movie “Beverly Hills Ninja” and is highly regarded in the martial arts industry. The film cost $250,000 to produce that Rodrigues and Churchville helped finance, with executive producers Maurice Elmalen and David Patrick Eich footing a majority of the cost.
Also, Rodrigues sought out some of his local karate buddies to incorporate their students in the film, as well as students from his own dojo. He called on Michael Burton, owner of New England Kenpo and Karate located at 208 Buttonwoods Avenue, as well as Dennis Malloy, owner of State of the Arts Karate Center at 1160 Bald Hill Road. Those performing in the film were paid and will share in the profits.
“Even though they are competitive schools, they are still good friends of mine,” Rodrigues said. “It wasn’t hard for me to find the talent.”
In all, more than 100 local students were extras in the film. They were featured in a mock tournament, which was shot at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at 801 Greenwich Avenue. The hotel was the perfect place to film the scene, said Rodrigues, as the hotel hosts the Ocean State Grand Nationals every year, which Rodrigues runs.
In fact, the annual competition sparked the idea for the film, as movie producer Baxter Churchville of Popcorn Pictures attended the event a few years ago and was dazzled by the talent. As a result, he contacted Rodrigues, and the two met to discuss making a martial arts movie featuring some of the children who competed. Churchville wrote and directed the movie.
“We started scouting people for the film,” he said. “We wanted to film everything in Rhode Island, which is what we accomplished.”
For the most part, the movie was filmed on Misquamicut Beach in Westerly, with dojo scenes filmed at the Professional Martial Arts Training Center, owned by Rui Rodrigues in Greenville. Though they share the same last name, there is no relation.
“The movie makes it look like they go right from the beach into the karate school,” said Rodrigues. “Some of the fight scenes are absolutely outstanding, and that’s because of the talent of the kids.”
The film, which is rated PG and runs for an hour and 25 minutes, will make its world premiere tonight at the Providence Place Mall Cinema at 7 p.m., with a red carpet event beginning at 6:30. It will play throughout the weekend for a total of 17 showings. For a list of showings visit www.providenceplace.com/movies. Moreover, a national theater tour will launch this month before rolling out to cities across the country this fall.
Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis, Rodrigues’ sister, is excited for the premiere. She also said she’s proud of her brother and his family.
“I think it’s fantastic,” she said.
In the future, Rodrigues said he’s eager to produce another film. He enjoyed working with Churchville and hopes to team up with him again.
“I’d like to do more movies if we can,” Rodrigues said. “I’m up for the challenge, and I’m looking forward to the next one.”
Visit www.championsofthedeep.com for more information. A trailer can be found on iTunes.