Interview: The Red Tent director Roger Young on bringing humanity to Bible stories, the four kinds of love in his new miniseries, and getting Ben Kingsley to play a teenager

rogeryoungIt’s quite possible that Roger Young has directed more feature-length Bible-themed films than any other mainstream filmmaker. Cecil B. DeMille made four or five for the big screen — including two about Moses, one about Jesus, one about Samson and one that takes place shortly after the Book of Acts — but Young, who has worked almost exclusively in television, now has seven such films under his belt.

Between 1995 and 2000, Young directed five installments in the Lux Vide “Bible Collection” series, starting with Joseph — which won the Emmy for best miniseries — and continuing with Moses, Solomon, Jesus and St Paul. More recently, he has revisited some of those stories by directing adaptations of Bible-themed novels.

Last year Reelz aired his adaptation of Par Lagerkvist’s Barabbas, which takes place partly during the ministry of Jesus. And now, on Sunday and Monday night, Lifetime will air his adaptation of The Red Tent, the Anita Diamant novel that tells the stories of Jacob and Joseph through the eyes of their daughter and sister Dinah.

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Our first look at the Genesis-themed The Red Tent

redtent-ew-aThe Red Tent — the adaptation of the Anita Diamant novel that tells the biblical story of Jacob and Joseph from the perspective of Jacob’s wives and daughter Dinah — now has an airdate. Entertainment Weekly reports that the two-part miniseries will be shown on the Lifetime network December 7 and 8.

That’s right in the thick of the Exodus: Gods and Kings rollout (it opens overseas the week before that, and it opens in North America the week after that). And, as it happens, both films will feature Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass as a royal figure of some sort. In Exodus, she plays Bithiah, the Egyptian princess who adopts Moses, while in The Red Tent, she plays Re-Nefer, the queen of Shechem.

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The Red Tent will look at Genesis from a female perspective

The new thing in Bible movies and similar productions? Telling familiar stories from a female point of view.

First CBS announced that it was going to produce an adaptation of The Dovekeepers, a book that looks at the Roman siege of Masada from the perspective of four Jewish women trapped inside that fortress.

Now comes word that the Lifetime network is going to produce The Red Tent, a two-part mini-series based on a novel by Anita Diamant that looks at the stories of Jacob and his son Joseph from the perspective of Jacob’s daughter and Joseph’s half-sister Dinah.

What’s more, it appears the mini-series will pay special attention to the relationship between Dinah and the four women who raised her: her mother Leah, her aunt Rachel, and her father’s concubines Bilhah and Zilpah.

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Two more TV-movies — one now, one later — for Holy Week

I promise to have a post on last Sunday’s episode of The Bible soon. In the meantime, I just want to note two things that popped up in my news feed today.

First, it turns out there is another brand-new Bible-themed movie on TV this week, as the Reelz network is hosting the American premiere of Barabbas, a two-part mini-series about the Jewish rebel or criminal who was freed by Pilate in Jesus’ place.

Starring Billy Zane and directed by Roger Young (who previously directed some of the better-known films in the ‘Bible Collection’ series), it is based on the same Par Lagerkvist novel that inspired the 1961 film starring Anthony Quinn (as well as a 1953 film made in Sweden and, apparently, a 2001 film made in Armenia).

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Come and See: How Movies Encourage Us to Look at (and with) Jesus

In orthodox Christian belief, Jesus is both God and man, fully divine and fully human. And it is because God has revealed himself in the form of a particular person who lived in a particular time and a particular place that Christians down through the ages have generally felt free to portray Jesus in icons, passion plays, and other forms of religious art. But except for the most basic and theologically essential points, such works of art generally pass over the particularities of Jesus’s life. His humanity, expressed in the mere fact that he can be depicted at all, is often balanced with his divinity by a degree of artistic abstraction: Whether depicting Christ in static paintings or following the stations of the cross according to a set pattern, artists have tended to downplay realistic or naturalistic details to focus on the more eternal truths.

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Review: Paul the Apostle (dir. Roger Young, 2000)

Numerous films have been based on the Gospels, but few have been based on the Book of Acts. Even when filmmakers make a point of depicting stories from across the Scriptures, the early church tends to get left out; a typical example is the otherwise excellent series of British-Russian animated films that began with Testament, a collection of nine half-hour episodes from the Old Testament, and ended with The Miracle Maker, a feature film about Jesus. As finales go, the death and resurrection of Jesus are pretty hard to beat.

Thankfully, some filmmakers do explore the work of the apostles once in a while. The best examples to date are probably the 1985 mini-series A.D., which does a marvelous job of depicting the joy that animated the Jerusalem church but gets increasingly sidetracked by secular history and fictitious love stories between soldiers, slaves and gladiators the further it moves into Gentile territory; and the 1981 TV movie Peter and Paul, starring Anthony Hopkins, which takes superb advantage of the autobiographical information in Paul’s epistles.

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