Wednesday, January 25, 2006

End of the Spear-- The Story Behind the Story

End of the Spear opened last Friday and placed in the box-office Top 10 over last weekend, but still fell short of its producer's expectations. Critical reviews overall have not been strong, although many reviewers seemed to think the story itself had potential. In the meantime, controversy over the producer's casting choice continues. For more background, see my post, End of the Spear: Is the Real Message of Jim Elliot and Nate Saint Being Overshadowed?

A revealing email
I received two days ago what was likely a widely circulated email message from Jason Janz, the blogger at whose critical post about the movie End of the Spear has probably been the most widely read and galvanizing response to the movie in the Christian community.

In the email, Janz details his conversations with Mart Green, CEO of Every Tribe Entertainment, the independent film company that produced the film, and with Jim Hanon, whose directorial effort on End of the Spear marks the second time he has told the story of the five Christian missionaries. His first effort, also produced by Every Tribe, was a documentary titled Beyond the Gates of Splendor, based on the popular book of similar title (Through Gates of Splendor) by Elisabeth Elliot.

With the conviction that Every Tribe Entertainment had done a disservice to the cause of Christ by selecting gay activist Chad Allen to star as Nate Saint in the new film, Janz had previously forwarded a letter of protest to the company, signed by over 100 pastors. Having received the letter, Mart Green and Jim Hanon called Janz and allowed him an opportunity to ask further questions.

What emerges most clearly from the email account of the conversation is that Every Tribe Entertainment does not think that the casting of Chad Allen in the pivotal starring role was wrong. First, they have defended their choice of Allen as the best actor for the role-- and therefore being appropriate to the company's purpose of producing high-quality films. And, as quoted in this email, Green and Hanon agree that the purpose of Every Tribe is not to be ""exclusive"-- it seems that are viewing the casting of a gay actor as a way of reaching out to the gay community.

"We are going to open up the door to anyone who wants to act unlike you, Jason, who wants to be exclusive." I asked Mart Green what he would do. He responded, "I would stand behind my director."

Who's being witnessed to?
As a Christian company, Every Tribe Entertainment may reason that by casting Chad Allen in the role of this strong Christian missionary, Mr. Allen could not help but be positively affected by playing the role of a brave, faith-filled missionary, and in the end, might give his own life to Christ.

This also seems to be suggested by an interview that director Jim Hanon gave to Hollywood Jesus, in which he says "every actor has a gift of empathy which allows them to truly feel and therefore truly communicate what a character is feeling. In this way our actors experienced, and vicariously lived, the reality of this story before any one else."

It seems that Steve Saint, son of Nate, and writer of the book that the movie is based on, would agree. He has a bit part in the film, served as a stunt pilot on the production, and is also portrayed by Mr. Allen in the film. Although he was at first shocked when he learned that Allen was homosexual, and realized that many Christians would be also be dismayed by the casting choice, he soon came to see it as something God planned:

"I thought, 'What happens if I stand before God someday and He says to me, "Steve, I went out of my way to orchestrate an opportunity for Chad Allen to see what it would be like to live as your father did.' And then I could picture Him looking at me and saying, 'Steve, why did you mess with my plan?'"

But is Mr. Allen seeing it this way? Perhaps only time will tell. In the meantime, Allen is using the platform the film has given him to continue to promote homosexuality. He has said that he views his participation in the film as "an opportunity to bridge these two disparate communities that are believed to be enemies- the gay and the Christian communities."

My thoughts
I have yet to see the film, but I think I will go see it in order to write a review. The story that inspired the movie is worth telling, besides being one which really happened. It is so rare to see well-made movies that are based on the lives of righteous, Christian people, and generally speaking, I would like to support such film-making efforts. This is why I think it is unfortunate that Allen was chosen for the role. The ensuing controversy would have been easily avoided by choosing a different actor for the part, and the choice of Allen makes one suspicious that the producers perhaps calculated that controversy might bring more people into theaters to see the film.

As an artist, I am highly sympathetic to the notion of producing art that is high-quality, and to this end, getting the best, most talented people to participate in your project is certainly a good goal. However, in this case, it seems that Allen is so vocal on behalf of the gay community/agenda that he is the one really using the film as a platform for his message, while the story of these great missionaries, as I argued in my previous post, is overshadowed.

Let's seen then, if the film itself works as a cinematic piece of art and tells this very deserving story well. I hope to have a review posted here shortly.

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