At the risk of repeating too much of what I’ve already posted here, one of my editors has just handed me an assignment to write an article in the next month or so on the history of World Wide Pictures, the motion-picture arm of Billy Graham’s ministry.
Among other things, I’ve got to come up with testimonies from people whose lives have been affected by the films, and I also have to write a sidebar on WWP’s “top five films”, “top” being distinct from “best” because they’re not paying me enough to actually watch all the films! So films would be included based partly on their historical significance or cultural prominence, etc.
So, any help y’all can give me would be welcome! If you can think of a film that ought to be included in the top five, or if you know of anyone whose life was affected by a film, let me know!
FWIW, the WWP website lists 56 different films produced since 1953, some of which are apparently available for viewing online — but it looks like quite a few were documentaries or shorts. Details are at the post linked above, but it seems that only half of them are fictional feature-length films (i.e., at least one hour long).
Interestingly, WWP has been averaging almost one of those per year since 1992 (with 11 films in the last 13 years). Before that, they produced 3 films in the 1980s, 6 in the 1970s, 4 in the 1960s and 4 in the 1950s, for an average of one film every 2 years, or 17 feature films produced during their first few decades (between 1953 and 1987). So they’ve been stepping up the pace.
Yet the films produced from the 1990s on have been, it seems to me, very low-profile compared to the ones that were given theatrical releases and promoted a fair bit at churches and the like in the 1980s and possibly 1970s. So there seems to be more product, but less profile. I wonder, is this a reflection of our ever-burgeoning straight-to-video film culture?
FWIW, I’ve seen Wiretapper (1955) and The Hiding Place (1975) on video and I remember seeing Joni (1980), The Prodigal (1983), Cry from the Mountain (1985) and Caught (1987) on the big screen. (I particularly remember Caught because, despite being a Christian film, it was rated PG-13 for drug use and at least one use of the word “hell”.) Oh, and now that I think about it, I might have seen Two a Penny (1967) on video way back in my teens, because Cliff Richard starred in that one. I know I’ve got a review copy of Road to Redemption (2001) kicking around here, too, though I never got around to watching it because none of my editors at the time were interested.
There is a lot that could be said about these films — they haven’t always been all that well-written or -produced, the emphasis on “heroic” singers and sports figures and other celebrities is a bit questionable, and the conversion-at-the-end plot structures have always reminded me of fairy tales that end with weddings but never even hint at the fact that the real story begins after the wedding when the couple tries to make the marriage “work” — but I have to admit, Graham’s company was doing the Christian-film thing long before all those end-times flicks came along, and they were doing so with real actors (e.g., the late Sir Nigel Hawthorne had a small role in The Hiding Place) and a certain level of professionalism that I think some Christian filmmakers today are still struggling to match.
It is also intriguing to wonder if the forces that “liberalized” film in the 1950s — the Supreme Court decisions declaring film a form of “art” protected by free-speech laws and breaking up the monopoly of the studio system, which accelerated the rise of foreign and independent films and therefore weakened the censors’ grip on the content of mainstream films — also paved the way for WWP. Although I do note that the WWP website says The Restless Ones (1965) was “Billy Graham’s first theater movie.” Where did they show the other films made prior to that one, then?