Film title: “Knocking” — by Joel P. Engardio and Tom Shepard — 2005 or 2006 — 53 minutes (plus extras on the DVD)
Distributor: New Day Films — 888.367.9154 — www.newday.com/films/knocking.html
Summary: (from the distributor’s blurb)

KNOCKING opens the door on Jehovah’s Witnesses. While protecting their own rights, they have won a record number of court cases expanding freedoms for all Americans. In Nazi Germany, they chose the concentration camps over fighting for Hitler. They refuse blood transfusions on religious grounds but support the science of bloodless medicine. They are moral conservatives who stay out of politics and the Culture War. KNOCKING follows two families who stand firm for their often controversial and misunderstood faith. Their stories reveal how one unlikely religion helped to shape history beyond the doorstep.

Keywords: sects, pacifists, American religion, religion and law

“Born Again: Life in a Fundamentalist Church”

Film Title: “Born Again: Life in a Fundamentalist Church” — by James Ault and Michael Camerini — 1987 — 2 versions: 87 minutes and 58 minutes

Distributor: James Ault Productions — www.jamesault.com


An engrossing and detailed look at a small Fundamentalist congregation in Massachusetts in the mid- 1980s. It follows several families, detailing their views of their religion and of the world. It provides an insider’s view without varnishing away negative details. First rate!

I find the shorter version more useful for the classroom, as it leaves time for a quick debriefing in an 80-minute class period. The discussion during the next class period works best if I give students study questions and ask them to relate the film to their reading.

Leave plenty of time for talk! Most students need it.  (JS)

Keywords: Fundamentalism, worldview, conversion, family life, sects

“Parish Portraits”

Film Title: “Parish Portaits” — by James Ault — 1999 — 51 minutes
Distributor: James Ault Productions — www.jamesault.com
Summary: (from the distributor’s website)

Portraits of four diverse Episcopal churches for the Zacchaeus Project and Trinity Institute’s national teleconference “Roots and Wings,” September 27-9, 1999. Includes short scenes on different themes–Episcopal identity, youth, women clergy, etc.–and a longer version of challenges faced by an Anglo-Latino congregation in Oxnard, California.

Keywords: American religion; Episopalians; parish life

“Beyond the Gates of Splendor”

Film Title: “Beyond the Gates of Splendor” — by Jim Hannon and Kevin McAfee — 2005 — 40 minute and 90 minute versions
Distributor: www.beyondthegatesthemovie.com

he Waodani Indians of Ecuador were killing six of every 10 of their tribesmen when American missionaries entered their isolated community in January 1956. Anthropologists say the tribe, identified then as the Aucas, had one of the most violent cultures ever documented and was headed toward extinction.
Missionary pilot Nate Saint had located the tribe in circling the Amazon Basin jungle. Wishing to establish contact, Saint hoped a slow, circular flying pattern would allow him to stabilize a long rope and basket dropped from the airplane down to the tribe. A difficult maneuver, it worked, and over 11 weeks in late 1955, Saint and fellow missionaries Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully and Roger Youderian lowered gifts to the Waodani. When the Waodani returned the favor by sending a bird up in the basket, the missionaries sensed opportunity.
On Jan. 7, 1956, the five men left their young wives at base camp and landed their plane on a sandbar near the Waodani, making face-to-face contact for the first time. The next day, the tribesmen speared them dead.
The killings made worldwide news at the time. Life magazine devoted a spread to the story on Jan. 30, 1956, and a 1957 book, “The Gates of Splendor,” brought the story to millions of readers from the Christian perspective of Elisabeth Elliot, who was widowed by the killings.
Almost 50 years later, the tale — with updated material chronicling the tribe’s radical change — has been retold in a 40-minute documentary, “Beyond the Gates of Splendor,” available free of charge to churches, schools and para-church organizations.
A full-length, 90-minute version of the documentary debuted on the big screen in a handful of cities this year and will be available in retail stores on DVD in September, said Randy Swanson, a spokesman for Every Tribe Entertainment (www.everytribe.com), the company that produced it.
The documentary precedes a full-length theatrical movie, “End of the Spear,” which is in final production and will debut in theaters in early 2006 near the 50th anniversary of the killings, Swanson said.
The documentary focuses on the missionaries and their families, the Waodani tribesmen and the unlikely story of courage and redemption when two of the missionaries’ widows and one of the missionaries’ sisters and — years later –— the son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren of Nate Saint settle among the tribe.

“Fall From Grace”

Film Title: “Fall From Grace” — by K. Ryan Jones — 2007 — 71 minutes
Distributor: www.fallfromgracemovie.net

Summary: (from the producers)

“God hates fags,” “You’re going to Hell,” “Thank God for 9/11,” “Thank God for dead soldiers.” Even in the darkness, the picket signs glow, not simply because of their neon hues, but because of the incandescent hate with which they are branded.

This shocking rhetoric flows from the Reverend Fred Phelps and his followers at the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas – smack in the center of America’s heartland. Whether it’s on their toxic website www.godhatesfags.com or at one of the 22,000 demonstrations they’ve staged over the last fifteen years, the Church is focused on one key message: America is doomed because, for too long, it has tolerated homosexuality and allowed it to thrive. Church members picket daily in the city of Topeka and often travel abroad. Most recently, Pastor Phelps and his followers have targeted military funerals for soldiers killed in the war in Iraq as a venue to preach God’s wrath against a nation that has apparently been “taken over by the fags.”

Directed by first-time filmmaker K. Ryan Jones – currently a senior at the University of Kansas – Fall From Grace is the first in-depth documentary feature film to focus on Pastor Phelps and his hate group, and features unprecedented access, interviews with Pastor Phelps and other members of the Westboro Baptist Church. Fall From Grace also includes interviews with the myriad of dissenters: Topeka leaders and officials, ministers, theologians, and two of Pastor Phelps’s adult children who have chosen to leave the church and their family.

Westboro Baptist Church is led by Pastor Fred Phelps, a lawyer who was disbarred in the mid-90s for witness intimidation, who started the church fifty years ago. It is a small group, comprised mostly of members of the Phelps family, but their hatred is prolific. They demonstrate anywhere they feel that their message is applicable, like the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming student who was killed for being gay and most recently, at the funerals of military servicemen and women killed in Iraq.

Fall From Grace takes the viewer inside this surreal world with rare interviews and footage of several pickets and church services. The film focuses on a group that represents a variety of contemporary American issues, including intolerance of homosexuality, the right to freedom of speech, separation of church and state, and the War in Iraq.

Call To Witness

Film Title: Call to Witness: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Ordination in the Lutheran Church — by Pam Walton — 59 minutes

Distributor: Pam Walton Productions

Summary: (from the distributor’s website)

What People are Saying. . .

“Call to Witness is both an elegy to shattered lives and ruined careers and a testimony to the courage and commitment of queer pastors and their partners who are engaged in one of the most important and controversial battles of our time.”
– Outfest 2000, The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

“Call to Witness goes behind the angry rhetoric to paint a compelling picture of a denomination’s struggle to come to terms with its gay and lesbian congregants. It is an enlightened meditation on an issue that threatens to tear our nation apart and should be required viewing for both sides of the cultural divide.”
– Chris Bull, Washington Correspondent, The Advocate / Co-author, Perfect Enemies: The Religious Right, the Gay Movement, and the Politics of the 1990s.

“The stories in Call to Witness need to be heard if we are to seriously engage in the ‘study of sexuality’ that is currently underway in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. That study has multiple sides and this video presents one seldom heard by the people in our pews, or in the public.”
–Bishop Emeritus Paul Egertson, Southwest California Synod, ELCA.

“In just sixty minutes, Call to Witness captures not only an important piece of history, but also illustrates why religious debates are so essential to our struggle for civil rights.”
– Jim Mitulski, GLBT Outreach Coordinator, James Hormel Center, San Francisco

The Video Includes . . .

> The stories of Rev. Steve Sabin in Iowa, who was outed by his bishop, supported by his congregation, and “tried” by the national church because he refused to resign; Rev. Jane Ralph in Missouri, who was forced out of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with no recourse; and Pastoral Minister Anita C. Hill in Minnesota, who at the time was working to be ordained as an openly lesbian pastor. (Rev. Hill was ordained in an act of ecclesiastical disobedience on April 28, 2001.)

> The stories of two San Francisco congregations that defied the ELCA in 1990 by calling Revs. Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart, and Jeff Johnson, openly gay and lesbian pastors not on the approved ELCA roster.

> An interview with Reverend Joseph Wagner, ELCA Division for Ministry, and Bishop Charles Maahs, ELCA Conference of Bishops.

> The vigilant work of Luthern Lesbian and Gay Ministries as they support pastors and congregations who are being forced out of the ELCA.

Holy Ghost People

Film Title: Holy Ghost People, by Peter Adair (1967) — 57 minutes

Distributor: Available from GPod

Summary: Holy Ghost People describes the beliefs and practices of a snake-handling Pentecostal church and shows candid shots of the congregation during a service, including snake handling and glossolalia. In a dramatic ending, the leader is bitten by a rattlesnake.

For a longer review, see the above GPod link, which has posted most of a review by Gary Morris from: Bright Lights Film Journal.  (Click here, then scroll down the page to find the full review.)

God’s Angry Man

Film Title: God’s Angry Man — by Werner Herzog (1980) — 44 minutes

Distributor: ???????

Summary: A documentary about Dr. Gene Scott, televangelist, who used ranting anger to raise money on his nightly Festival of Faith. Tom Sutpen, in a review posted at Bright Lights Film Journal, writes:

A good deal of Herzog’s film is taken up with scenes of Scott live on the air, angrily rifling through pledges from viewers that were just called in — none of which are ever less than three figures — eventually flying into a hardcore Old Testament fury at the foul stinginess of the apostate public when he sees they haven’t coughed up that extra thousand he told them he needed. … In other hands, scenes like these would be used to advance the ever-fashionable cliché of television evangelists as mammon-obsessed charlatans…, but Herzog’s portrait of Dr. Gene Scott isn’t concerned with exposing hypocrisy … . God’s Angry Man is neither an exposé nor a malediction, and Scott is never branded a crackpot…. And for all his volcanic on-air bluster, he reveals a great deal of genuine vulnerability when he’s interviewed by Herzog.

Read the whole review here.


Battle for the Bible

Film Info:  Battle for the Bible – PBS “God and Politics” series (1987) – 60 minutes.

Distributor ??????????

Summary:  Illustrates a contemporary conflict between Christians who want to enforce a conservative orthodoxy in their denominations versus others who want to maintain their denomination’s tradition of freedom of conscience for individual believers.  Focused on the Southern Baptist Convention.

Film notice taken (with permission) from the “Teaching Resources” list in Meredith McGuire’s Religion: The Social Context, third edition. Her 5th edition (available from Waveland Press: see www.religionthesocialcontext.com) does not contain the resource list. I have only traced some of these films to current distributors. Please post updated information about them, if you have it. – JS

The Bible Belt: Politics of the Second Coming

Film Info: The Bible Belt: Politics of the Second Coming – Canadian Broadcasting Company (1972) – 90 minutes

Distributor: ??????????

Summary:  Examines the rise of fundamentalist Protestant sects in Western Canada during the 1920s and 1930s and their impact on Canadian politics then and now.

Film notice taken (with permission) from the “Teaching Resources” list in Meredith McGuire’s Religion: The Social Context, third edition. Her 5th edition (available from Waveland Press: see www.religionthesocialcontext.com) does not contain the resource list. I have only traced some of these films to current distributors. Please post updated information about them, if you have it. – JS