NASHVILLE, TN – A remake of the 1959 blockbuster Ben-Hur was among the films releasing widely this year that were highlighted at Proclaim 16, the NRB International Christian Media Convention. Others included God’s Not Dead 2, Miracles from Heaven, and The Young Messiah.
Roma Downey, who with husband Mark Burnett produced The Bible television series and the Son of God film, was interviewed February 23 during the Opening Session of the Convention about her latest project, Ben-Hur. As President of LightWorkers Media, Downey said she and Burnett strive to “tell stories that glorify God and bring hope.”
The duo is working with MGM and Paramount studios to bring the classic film to a new generation of moviegoers unfamiliar with the original. The new version, Downey said, “is in many ways a Trojan horse because it’s an action-adventure movie,” yet it “holds deep in the belly of it a story of redemption, a story of reconciliation, a story about forgiveness.”
Due in theaters in August, the film set in Jesus’ day tracks nobleman Judah Ben-Hur as his boyhood friend falsely accuses him of an assassination attempt. He endures years of slavery under the Romans and attempts to exact revenge. Jesus is a more central character in the new version of the film compared to the 1959 version, Downey said.
Downey showed the Convention audience 20 minutes of clips from the film and interviews with actors and others involved in the project. She noted it’s still in post-production and said the chariot scene alone took six to eight weeks to shoot.
“It’s clearly a work in progress,” Downey said at the Convention. “... It is so thrilling and yet it holds at its heart this message of mercy and love and compassion and forgiveness and a man who made a decision to come back and be revenged but the revenge leaves him empty until he has a connection with Jesus.”
Downey said she “prayed into every frame” of the movie that as people around the world are at war with each other they will “put down their sticks and their stones and this will be part of a greater awakening which is so necessary in this world that we’re living in.”
The Young Messiah
The Young Messiah, in theaters March 11, imagines a year in the boyhood of Jesus while remaining true to the character of Jesus revealed in the Bible, according to press material.
In the film, when the mystery of Jesus’ divinity begins to unfold, he turns to his parents for guidance. But Mary and Joseph are afraid to reveal all they know.
“How do you explain the ways of the world to its Creator? How do you teach the Teacher? How do you help the Savior who came to save you?” the promo asks.
The film follows Jesus as he and his family journey from Egypt to Nazareth and on to Jerusalem.
At a panel discussion following the screening of The Young Messiah at Proclaim 16, director Cyrus Nowrasteh explained why the film focuses on only one year of Jesus’ life.
“This story addresses that fundamental question at the heart of the movie, which is him coming to the full comprehension of who he is,” Nowrasteh said. “I think drama and stories are always better the more compressed the time is.”
God’s Not Dead 2
A sequel to God’s Not Dead, God’s Not Dead 2 explores the threat to religious liberty that is prevalent in America today, focusing on the story of a teacher in Arkansas whose career is at risk when she mentions the name of Jesus in her public school classroom.
The film stars Melissa Joan Hart as Grace Wesley, a history teacher who professes her hope in Christ to a struggling student outside the classroom. Later she mentions Jesus in response to a question during a lesson on Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi.
The principal and superintendent team up with a zealous civil liberties group to threaten the teacher’s job and set up a court battle that could see God’s name banned from the classroom once and for all.
God’s Not Dead 2, which hits theaters April 1, includes an appearance by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and features singer/actor Pat Boone.
Boone spoke at Proclaim 16 before a screening of the film, saying he is proud to be part of a film that “unashamedly and very professionally and very entertainingly makes the case that there is a God in Heaven who cares about us.”
Producer Mike Scott said in a news release that he hopes the film will start a conversation in the country “about how critical the right to believe, and to talk about that belief in public, is to our nation.”
Miracles from Heaven
Miracles from Heaven is based on a true story of a 12-year-old girl named Anna who suffered from a digestive disorder that rendered her unable to eat, forcing her to use feeding tubes for nutrition. After a near-death experience of falling from a tree, Anna was cured of the disease. Jennifer Garner stars as the girl’s mother, Christy Beam.
During a panel discussion after a screening of the film at Proclaim 16, Rich Peluso, Senior Vice President of AFFIRM Films, said churches should support the movie because it will connect with a broad audience. “It has the opportunity for churches to connect with people they don’t normally talk to,” Peluso said, drawing on the film’s human interest element.
Darrell Bock, Executive Director of the Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, said, “Miracles are life. Everything about life is a miracle.” He recounted holding his newborn daughter years ago and marveling over her being created in a short span of nine months.
“Another thing I appreciated about the movie was its realism that not everyone gets a miracle in the sense that we think about it,” Bock said. “... I really love the fact that they didn’t try to answer the question that no one can answer, which is, ‘Why did this happen one way for one person and another way for another?’”
Bock characterized the movie as a reflection of life lived in a fallen world in which there is pain, and, “In the midst of that pain, God is never absent.”
The film is due in theaters March 16.
Also shown during Proclaim 16 was Bible Idiots, a full-length reality documentary that follows national syndicated radio show host, author, Bible teacher, and standup comic Chris Danielson and his son, Jacob, as they travel around the country for their father-son standup tour. Along the way, the Danielsons sit down with ministry leaders and Bible scholars including Jim Daly of Focus on the Family, Joni Eareckson Tada, Dr. Alex McFarland, Dr. Frank Turek, and Dr. Erwin Lutzer.
Among the questions asked: “Why is there such a decline in belief in the Bible?” “What is the real evidence?” “Are there legitimate reasons for believing it?”
But at the core is the question: “Are we idiots for believing the Bible, or would we be idiots not to?”
While not scheduled for a wide release, Bible Idiots drew a crowd at Proclaim 16.
The documentary is available for purchase at bibleidiots.com.
By Erin Roach and Kenneth Chan
Published: March 10, 2016