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Richmond Hill boy hits the big screen
premiere 2
Actor Hayden Christensen poses with Bobby Batson at the 90 Minutes in Heaven premiere after-party. - photo by Photo provided by Batson family

A Richmond Hill boy is enjoying the red-carpet treatment for his first movie role.

Family and friends joined Bobby Batson, 7, Sunday for a showing in Pooler of the film “90 Minutes in Heaven,” which opened in theaters Friday. Bobby, who portrays a son of the main character, signed photos and posed for pictures in the lobby prior to the movie starting.

That was a bit more casual than the “90 Minutes in Heaven” premiere Sept. 1 at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. Bobby donned a suit and tie and enjoyed the festivities along with the rest of the cast, including stars Hayden Christensen and Kate Bosworth and director Michael Polish.

After walking the red carpet, Bobby sat in the historic theater and watched himself on the silver screen for the first time.

“I think I did really good,” he said with a smile. “I thought it was cool. I never really saw myself on the big screen.”

Bobby’s biggest fans attended the Atlanta premiere with him. He was accompanied by his family, including a grandfather who flew in from Arkansas and an uncle who traveled from Chicago.

“It was unbelievable,” said his mother, Rachel Batson. “Family was there, and it was amazing to see him up there (on screen). It’s emotional, for sure.”

Bobby had appeared in TV commercials before, but had not been in a movie prior to his successful audition for “90 Minutes in Heaven.” He spent five weeks in Atlanta in February and March for the filming, according to his mom.

Fortunately, being part of a movie production didn’t go to Bobby’s head — just his stomach.

“It was really cool,” he said of the moviemaking process. “I met new friends. I had free cookies.”

Now in second grade at McAllister Elementary School, Bobby was a first-grader at Richmond Hill Primary when he left for the five weeks of filming. A teacher furnished by the Screen Actors Guild worked on schoolwork with him on the set every day, Batson said.

Meanwhile, his teacher, Melanie Harris, and her students showed their support back home. Bobby’s classmates sent him handwritten notes and a gift bag.

“They were so wonderful,” Batson said. “That made him so happy, just that little (gesture), seeing all his friends missed him, because he was missing them, too.”

“90 Minutes in Heaven” tells the story of Don Piper, a Texas pastor who was gravely injured Jan. 18, 1989, when a tractor-trailer crushed his car head-on as he was driving home from a ministers’ conference. Presumed dead by rescue workers, Piper lay under a tarp for the next hour and a half.

During those 90 minutes he was unconscious, Piper claims to have seen heaven. He says he was “brought back” when a pastor who had been at the same conference stopped at the crash scene and prayed over Piper.

“Somebody prayed for him, and he lived,” Bobby explained.

“He has vivid accounts of being in heaven and what he thought it was,” Batson added.

In the movie, Bobby plays the role of Joe, one of Piper’s two sons. He instantly struck up a friendship with Hudson Meek, who portrays the other son, Chris.

“They were brothers immediately,” Batson said of Bobby and Hudson, who entertained each other on the set. “But the minute the director would say ‘action,’ they were so professional.”

The boys’ scenes help offset some of Piper’s suffering that plays out on-screen, Batson said. Piper was bedridden for 13 months as part of his long and difficult recovery from the crash.

“Don Piper suffered so much, and there’s a lot of suffering in the movie,” Batson said. “The boys would walk into the scene and it would lighten it up, because they’re cute little boys and they’re sweet and they’re trying to make their ‘daddy’ feel better. So it’s a breath of fresh air.”

Considering the central theme of the movie, Bobby was asked how he pictures heaven.

“Heaven is a beautiful place,” he said. “You see people you remember. It’s paradise.”

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