Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s the latest dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media:

The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith opens next Friday (June 28). Rated PG-13.

Synopsis: A Mormon missionary family in 1960’s Tonga faces the ultimate test of faith when their newborn baby boy falls critically ill and they are forced to rely on the love and prayers of thousands of Tongans of all denominations to save his life. Barriers of inter-religious strife are broken down as an entire nation unites in hope of a miracle that will save the baby’s life, as well as that of a Tongan minister’s son who is in a coma in an adjacent hospital room. The film is based on a true story.

The first Other Side of Heaven movie premiered in 2001 and is notable both for being Anne Hathaway’s first feature film and for helping blaze a trail for the modern era of successful faith-themed films.  After its theatrical run, Disney picked it up and sold over four-million DVDs.

Though Hathaway doesn’t appear in the sequel,Christopher Gorham (of TV’s Ugly Betty and Covert Affairs) reprises his role as Mormon missionary John Groberg. His wife is played by New Zealand actress Natalie Medlock.

The movie is from Two Road Productions which was founded in 1995 by writer-director Mitch Davis who also made the original movie. Davis’ other credits include 2015’s holiday comedy Christmas Eve starring Patrick Stewart, Gary Cole, James Roday and Cheryl Hines and 2017’s The Stray (a very personal film about his family and their pet dog Pluto). Davis also wearing three hats as producer, director and writer of The Other Side of Heaven 2. I recently had the opportunity to speak with him about the long-awaited sequel.

JWK: When you released the original Other Side of Heaven film in 2001, did you do so with a sequel in mind?

Mitch Davis:  I was not ever intending to do a sequel. I certainly did not want to make a low-budget sequel.  If there was going to be a sequel it had to be of the cinematic quality the story deserved. Only relatively recently did I find a formula for doing that. We were able to make the movie in Fiji which we dressed to look like Tonga where the story is based. Thanks to a combination of a 47 percent Fiji production rebate which basically reimbursed us about half the film’s production cost and the strength of US currency which goes twice as far in Fiji we, in effect, pretty much quadrupled our budget. Fiji is now a big production hub.  The movie Adrift was shot there, among others.

JWK: So, how does the sequel differ from the first film?

MD: In the first movie, the Mormon missionary John Groberg, played wonderfully by Christopher Gorham who happens to be a Catholic, was in Tonga in the 195o’s as a single man with no family. In the second film, he returns to Tonga in the 1960’s with a wife and five young daughters.

JWK: How have things changed?

MD: Things haven’t changed much in Tonga but this time Elder Groberg sees things through the eyes of his wife and daughters. As a result, he moves with more caution. Having a wife and children to be concerned about just magnifies the drama of all his experiences. Going back to Tonga a second time wouldn’t, in and of itself, be that much of a stretch for Groberg but going back with six other people in tow is another story. It just makes everything so much more dramatic and, in some ways, more poignant. There’s a point in the story where one of the children is very sick and they’re stuck on the island without proper medical care to heal him. They are really forced to rely on their faith in God. Everyone on the island was praying for them, including the royal family. This is a true story of the fire of faith. It’s about what happens when people of diverse religious traditions lock arms and support each other in faith.

JWK: What do you hope audiences take from this movie?

MD: Just that – the power of faith. A lot of forces threaten to pull us all apart in this world – but if we unconditionally love and support each other we can make it through. This movie shows how people of different faiths and cultures can come together in faith in one God and accomplish miracles.

JWK: What was it like shooting in Fiji. Any anecdotes you’d like to share? 

MD: The first day of principal photography in Fiji, a cyclone hit the country and was headed straight for our movie set. The entire cast and crew – many people of different denominations – prayed together. Wouldn’t you know, the storm did a u-turn and blew itself out to sea. To me that shows that when we lock arms we are so much stronger than when we wave our fists at each other.

JWK: How has the film tested with general audiences?

MD: I’ve worked on many other feature films but this one has really gone off the charts in terms of its very positive audience reaction. It’s almost scary how much people like it and how profoundly they’re effected by it.  I’m very pleased with that.

JWK:  Have you shown it to any Evangelical leaders?  If so, what was their response? 

MD:  We showed it a Fuller Seminary in Pasadena a few days ago.  Dr. Richard Mouw, the Emeritus President of the seminary, got up afterwards and he said, “This movie is a feast for the eyes, as well as the heart.  We will pray that God will bless it and its testimony.”  My heart was filled by his kind words.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11









Here’s the latest dispatch from the crossroads of faith and med

A chilling day remembered. To commemorate the tragic murders of nine African-Americans at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina four years ago,  Fathom Events opens the documentary Emanuel in theaters nationwide on June 17th and 19th only. Those dates are the respective anniversaries of the shooting, and Dylann Roof’s first court appearance when he was forgiven one-by-one by his victims. To purchase tickets at a theater near you, visit: The film, executive produced by Stephen Curry and Viola Davis and co-produced by Mariska Hargitay, was directed by Brian Ivie (The Drop Box).

Emanuel recounts the horrible event and its aftermath while also compellingly focusing the history of race relations in Charleston. The film features personal interviews with survivors and family members and examines the healing power of forgiveness. I think it’s worth checking out.

 Emanuel, by the way, was produced in direct partnership with the City of Charleston and the families affected by the tragedy. The producers of the documentary will donate their share of profits from the film to the survivors of the shooting and the families of the victims.


Here’s the latest dispatch from the crossroads of faith

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is set to release Breakthough on Digital July 2 and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray/DVD on July 16.

Breakthrough was the No. 3 film at the box office its opening weekend, eventually drawing more than $50 million worldwide, and continuing the trend of successful stories of faith being told on the big screen. The film is based on the real-life account of Joyce Smith, portrayed in the film by  Chrissy Metz (This is Us) about what happened after her adopted son John, played by Marcel Ruiz, fell through an icy Missouri lake and all hope seemed to be lost as his apparently lifeless was retrieved. Yet, in the face of every bleak medical case history and dire scientific prediction, Joyce’s unwavering belief inspired her community to pray for John’s recovery. The film received the coveted A rating from audiences polled by Cinemascore and was awarded the Dove Seal of Approval for All Ages.

Produced by hitmaker DeVon Franklin (Miracles from Heaven), the film was adapted for the screen by Grant Nieporte (Seven Pounds) from Joyce Smith’s own book (The Impossible). Breakthrough stars Chrissy Metz (This is Us), Josh Lucas (Yellowstone), Topher Grace (That ‘70s Show), Mike Colter (Luke Cage), Marcel Ruiz (One Day at a Time), Sam Trammell (This is Us, True Blood), and Dennis Haysbert (24). Breakthrough is directed by Roxann Dawson (House of Cards, The Americans).

Here’s the latest dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media:

Sikh’s have a dream. Nearly 56 years after Martin Luther King’s historic Lincoln Memorial rally in Washington, DC (on August 28, 1963),  the non-profit NYC-based civil rights group Sikhs for Justice is holding a rally at the same location tomorrow (June 6) from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM.

Jesse Jackson

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who stood alongside King in the non-violent African-American civil rights movement,  one of America’s foremost civil rights, will be the keynote speaker at the Sikh event. He’ll be joined by former federal prosecutor Patrick Meehan, a Republican. As a former congressman, Meehan was also is also chair of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus. Sikhs for Justice Executive Director Gurpatwant Pannun will also speak.

The demonstration commemorates the 35th anniversary of “Operation Blue Star,” aka the Golden Temple massacre of 1984. That event is noted for the tragic killing of over 30,000 Sikhs throughout India over a four-day period. Tomorrow’s rally is also a protest against the current Indian government in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies which have been criticized for not just oppressing Sikhs but other religious minorities, including Christians.

Sikhs for Justice is seeking demanding self-determination.

Patrick Meehan

While I don’t claim to be an expert on the issues involved, it does seem to me that the Sikh cause is not getting the media attention it warrants. The whole issue of religious oppression around the world is not covered enough. Hopefully, the rally tomorrow will help change that.

For more info go here.