Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith and media: To Sir with Love meets Northern Exposure. That plot from one of my all-time favorite films mixed with a dash of a classic TV show sort of describes the plot to The Grizzlies (opening wide in theaters next month). Except The Grizzlies is based on […]
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.
Synopsis (from the film’s website): Seeking religious freedom in America, a devout Christian family from Germany settles in the peaceful Pennsylvania colony – only to find themselves caught in the crossfire of the French & Indian War. Following a merciless raid on their settlement, daughters Barbara and Regina are abducted, separated, then raised by their Delaware captors in the harsh Ohio wilderness. Now, only their devotion to each other and faith in the Lord can lead them through their darkest hours and back to freedom in this inspirational, true story. (You can read my review here.)
The Motion Picture Academy be darned, Alone Yet Not Alone continues to find an audience. The faith-themed historical film that defied expectations during its limited release in the fall of 2013 (when it topped the box office chart in terms if per-screen average) and later by copping an unexpected Oscar nomination for its title song. The film’s notoriety continued when said Oscar nomination was controversially rescinded. And, now that the film is out on DVD, it has taken the #1 slot for independent films sold at Walmart and was last month’s top-selling movie at ChristianCinema.com.
IMHO: Like the Donald Trump campaign, the film’s success (with pretty much zero industry support) stands out as an indication that people are simply fed up with political correctness. The movie is good, the song, is great (listen below) — and, to paraphrase Time Magazine’s Trump cover, Hollywood just can’t deal with it. (BTW, while I’m endorsing the film, I’m not endorsing Donald Trump. I just totally get his appeal.)
I recently had the opportunity to talk with James Leininger who executive produced the film based on a book by his daughter Tracy Leininger Craven. She in turn based her story on a true story from the Leininger family. Before taking on the film, James Leininger made his fortune by founding Kinetic Concepts (KCI), a medical device company that focuses on wound care and selling specialized hospital beds.
JWK: What was it like working with your daughter to adapt her book into a screenplay?
JAMES LEININGER: It was great. When Tracy originally heard the story when she was nine years old from my mom, she decided right then to write the book. Years later, she told me her plans. So, we went and spent some time in Pennsylvania going to all the historical sites and doing the research. It was all there. It’s amazing. So, working with Tracy and has been a delight. She was great to work with and a lot of fun.
JWK: And it must have been even more fun in that you were also discovering your family’s history.
JL: Yes. Actually, that’s another thing that Tracy found that I didn’t realize. There were a group of Leiningers that came to Pennsylvania in the 1750’s and then there was another group of Leiningers that came to Northwest Ohio in the 1830’s. I thought they were not related and that we were from the the Northwest Ohio group. So, Tracy, tracked it back and (found that) both Barbara and Regina’s father and our ancestors are from (the same) little town. So, clearly they were related. Tracy’s research shows that Barbara and Regina’s father was a brother to our direct descendant. So, were our cousins eleven generations removed.
JWK: And Barbara and Regina at the two sisters at the center of the film.
JL: Exactly. They’re the two that were captured and taken away into Ohio at the very start of the French and Indian War.
JWK: The theme song for Alone Yet Not Alone was nominated for an Oscar but, then, that nomination was rescinded. Your film seemed to run afoul of the politically-correct sensibilities of Hollywood. Why do you think that was?
JL: I think there was a very easy explanation for that. It was nominated for Best Original Song and then the Hollywood Reporter did an ongoing daily poll. Anybody that wanted to could (weigh in on what) their favorite movie was or Best Actor or Best Original Soundtrack. After three weeks, Alone Yet No Alone was in first place with 82% of the vote. So, that meant the other four big studio films — including Disney’s film (Frozen) that ultimately won — were getting an average of four-and-a-half percent apiece. So, we were killing them and they decided — for whatever reason — that we weren’t going to get it. So, they just rescinded the nomination.
JWK: I gave the film a very positive review but, beyond the song, the movie itself seemed to annoy Hollywood? Why do you think that is?
JL: Faith-based films aren’t high on their hit parade, if you will. I think the Oscar is their club. The studios sponsor it and promote it. So, obviously, they’re gonna do whatever they want with the nominations in their club. Actually getting the nomination, I think, is huge because that was done by independent songwriters who were members of the Guild in Hollywood. The professionals judged Alone Yet Not Alone — that Joni Tada Eareckson sang — as one of the best. Then the Hollywood Reporter — I mean this is Hollywood insiders, this isn’t the Midwest or the Deep South or something — their voters, 82%, chose Alone Yet Not Alone. So, I don’t think there’s any controversy that it was the best song. They just decided it wasn’t going to win. The studios hired a private detective. You wouldn’t believe all (they did). We did nothing. We didn’t know it was going to get nominated. We didn’t spend a nickle on promoting or advertising. You know, the big studios are spending millions.
JWK: As I recall, the pretext for the rescinding was that Bruce Broughton, who wrote the music for the song and was also an Oscar music branch committee member, had emailed Academy members asking them to be aware of the song during the nomination process. It’s my understanding that he didn’t even suggest that they vote for it — just that they be aware of its existence.
JL: Exactly. I mean Bruce Broughton is a phenomenal composer. He had been nominated for Academy Awards previously and had gotten all kinds of Emmys and different awards. He was on the Board, yes. A true Hollywood insider but the big studios decide what happens.
JWK: Like you say, considering the millions the studios spend on pushing their own films, it seems a pretty flimsy reason for taking the action they did.
JL: All the big studios spend millions promoting not just Best Song but Best Actor and Best Film and all that.
JWK: Getting back to the film itself, what is it that you hope people take away from it?
JL: The message is that God will never leave you and will never forsake you. Those little girls…(are) taken from Eastern Pennsylvania all the way into Ohio with no hope of getting home on their own. All they had was their faith in God. Miraculously, both of the girls made it back to safety and back to their family. It was almost impossible…It was God’s Hand as far as I’m concerned.
JWK: I think there were some people who took offense at the idea of white women being kidnapped by Native Americans and struggling to get home to their own way of life. But, watching the film, I think the movie was fairly nuanced in that, for the most part, tribe members were portrayed fairly positively and sympathetically and that their point of view regarding their conflict with the Europeans was very understandable. I think the film just portrayed an unfortunate situation that developed without judgement.
JL: We tried very, very hard to tell both sides of the story. The Native Americans had been defrauded of their land and they wanted their land back. They had a valid complaint. Unfortunately for the Leininger family, they had bought the land from the land developer. They bought it from the Penn family. They had paid Delaware for it again and then they paid the Shawnees for it. They paid for it three times. They thought they were okay but, when the war broke out, they were in the westernmost settlement which was across the Susquehanna River…That was where they (the Shawnees) attacked. It was the first battle and the French and Indian War in Pennsylvania. There had never been any trouble with the Indians in 70 to 80 years prior to that. So, they were hoping there wouldn’t be any trouble but, unfortunately, they were wrong.
JWK: Have you received any reaction from people who have seen the film?
JL: Oh, absolutely! Extremely enthusiastic! It’s been Number 1 in Walmart among the independent films and Number 1 (at) ChristianCinema.com for the whole month of July. So, it’s being very well received. Just about every Christian leader that has seen the film has gone on their website or whatever media they have and promoted the film.
We were very blessed that it is a true story — the most accurate historical film ever produced of that pre-Revolutionary War period. It gives people hope. You know, they were desperate. They had nothing to rely on except God and He didn’t leave them and He didn’t forsake them. It’s an amazing true story.
JWK: Are you working on another film?
JL: We have another faith-based picture called To Have and to Hold. We hope to have that out in February of next year.
JWK: What’s that about?
JL: It’s a story about Jamestown written in 1907 for the 300th anniversary of Jamestown. It was an immediate bestseller by Mary Johnston. It remained a New York Times bestseller for many years then one of the first silent movies was made of the book then one of the first talking movies was made of it. In the thirties it just kind of got lost but in 2007 the story was reedited and republished. That’s when we heard about the story for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown. The story is based in Jamestown — a lot of true events there — although the story is historical fiction.
JWK: So, after making your fortune developing medical devices to help those dealing with physical suffering, you’re now in the movie business where, I guess, the hope is to help people emotionally and spiritually.
JL: That’s our prayer.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11