Monday, January 20, 2014

Gospel Films Archive

A truly "Lost & Rare" library of films comprises the many religious films produced by Cathedral Films, Family Films, Loyola Films, The Christophers and others to distribute as audio-visual aids to churches (hence sometimes called "church films") and use in missionary work overseas.  My partners (Bob Campbell, Derek Myers) and I have been building such a library that we call Gospel Films Archive or GFA.  These films were primarily made and widely shown in the 1940s thru 1960s.  Since each generation slightly alters their views on what to preach and how, churches felt that a 1950 film was too dated to keep using and that a 1980, or 2014, re-interpretation of Christian stories and beliefs would somehow be more relevant. This is largely why many of the vintage films slipped out of use and out of the public consciousness.

These forgotten Gospel films educated and enlightened millions around the world in the 20th century.  They constitute a lost history of Christian outreach, and this historical aspect will interest many. Since the films are as powerful and inspiring as ever, which may come as quite a surprise, reissuing them with introductions that put each film into context will not only chronicle this history but inspire modern viewers with their timeless messages.

Many of the films in Gospel Films Archive do not look dated at all in style or content.  Bible stories are period pieces set more than 2,000 years ago.  Many of the GFA films are in color. Many were crafted by some of Hollywood's most talented and prestigious producers, directors, writers and actors expressly for Christian denominational organizations and faith-based groups. Other films tell engaging stories with strong spiritual themes and were produced by film and TV companies primarily for secular audiences.

A Christian in Communist China (1961/color/21m Film Services) could have been made today.  Doesn't the title alone make you curious about seeing it?  A defiant Chinese Christian pastor, who has been conducting secret religious services in Communist China, is discovered and tortured. He escapes, but as he sails into Hong Kong harbor in a small fishing boat and hears a church choir singing in the distance, he decides to turn back to the people in his homeland who have looked to him for leadership and faith.

Boyhood of Jesus (1947/30m Loyola Films) In 1946 Loyola University commissioned veteran B-movie filmmaker John T. Coyle to assemble a pool of Hollywood actors and technicians to create 16 half-hour Bible films faithfully based on scripture. This one from the Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus' birth and life to age 12.  We contacted Loyola University and discovered that no one there even knew the films had been made, despite having a film archive, or bunch of films in a room, that had seemingly never been looked at.  All of the Loyola Bible films were made in 1947-'48.

John T. Coyle began his career in the 1930s doing special effects at Mascot and on Republic serials like Dick Tracy.  His crowning achievement was the 12-part color Living Christ series in 1951 for Cathedral Films.  Cathedral has a long history and one GFA rarity is "No Greater Power" from 1942 in original sepia color.

No Greater Power (1942/24m Cathedral Films) The story of Zaccheus as recorded in St. Luke 11 shows him as an impoverished potter who takes advantage of circumstances to gain the exalted position of tax collector in Jericho. He uses his wealth and power to further his own selfish ends, but everything changes when Jesus comes to supper. The film was shot by veteran cinematographer John Alton (Elmer Gantry) and is notable for its effective use of light and shadow, most notably when Jesus is strongly backlit giving a halo effect. 

So we have accumulated quite a library, and rapidly growing, of little-known films that will be of interest to many film buffs and Christians.  Rather than put them out on standard DVD in their present form, we hope to restore them to pristine condition and transfer to Hi-Def.  Future plans include DVD releases arranged around themes, preparation of "Gospel Films Showcase" for television and eventually producing a series of documentaries about the films.  We are supported in this endeavor by The Christophers, Vision Video, Wesscott Distributing, Loyola Films, and others who believe these films should be restored and returned to the public.

The first step is film restoration, which can be costly.  To get going we have just launched a fund-raising campaign on Indiegogo.  You can greatly assist us to spread the word by visiting the IGG page and telling friends who share your interest to pay us a visit as well.  More news is at the GFA website and Facebook page.

Film clips and future Gospel Films Archive plans are in this short video.  Thanks for watching!

Please visit the Indiegogo Campaign and spread the word!

1 comment:

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