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

Compelling and inspirational biographical documentary Hesburgh hits theaters nationwide this weekend (Friday, May 3). I just  had the opportunity to view the film and I have to say I was blown away. A highly-recommended portrait of a kind of bridge-building leader the country could use today. A native of Syracuse, New York Fr. Theodore Hesburgh received numerous honors and awards during his lifetime, including the United States’ Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964) and Congressional Gold Medal (2000). He is best remembered for his consequential leadership of Notre Dame University during some very tumultuous times. He  was a stalwart supporter of human rights and free speech – even when the latter sometimes put him at odds with Vatican conservatives. The documentary itself is informative and moves along crisply, suggesting that some enterprising filmmaker should attempt a dramatic rendering of his story.

Here is the official synopsis of the film: Amidst some of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history, one unlikely figure finds himself in the eye of the storm as he works to advance the causes of peace and equal rights for all people. He is Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C, longtime president of the University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh offers a unique glimpse at more than fifty years of American history. Educator, civil rights champion, advisor to presidents, envoy to popes, theologian and activist, Hesburgh was called on by countless world leaders to tackle the most challenging issues of the day. He built a reputation as a savvy political operator with a penchant for bridging the divide between bitter enemies. Through it all, he remained a man armed with a fierce intelligence, a quick wit and an unyielding moral compass — a timeless example of bipartisan leadership that would serve us well in today’s increasingly polarized times.

The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith arrives in theaters on June 28, 2019. That’s nearly two decades ago after the original film (starring Anne Hathaway in her first feature film role) chronicles the real-life saga of American John Groberg, a Mormon missionary (Christopher Gorham of TV’s Ugly Betty and Covert Affairs) who journeyed to Tonga in the 1950’s. Today the movie is seen as something of a pioneering work in the modern faith-based film genre. After its theatrical run, Disney picked it up and sold over 4 million DVDs. Although Hathaway (who played Groberg’s love interest) doesn’t appear in the new film, Gorham (Ugly Betty and Covert Affairs) is reprising his role as Groberg. His wife in the sequel is portrayed by New Zealand actress Natalie Medlock.

The movie hails from Two Road Productions, founded by Mitch Davis in 1995. Both the original film and the sequel were written and directed by Davis who I met when he was promoting his 2017 tearjerker The Stray.  His other films include 2015’s Christmas Eve starring Patrick Stewart and 2008’s Language of the Enemy starring F. Murray Abraham.

Talking about The Other Side of Heaven 2, Davis says “John Groberg’s true-life story among the Tongan people is incredible. It sells itself. But there was so much of that story we were unable to fit into the first installment.”

Official Summary: John Groberg returns to Tonga for his second round of missionary adventures, this time bringing his wife and family. When their son is born critically ill, the Grobergs face the ultimate test of their faith, only to find themselves surrounded by the love and prayers of thousands of Tongans of all denominations. Barriers of interreligious strife (the Grobergs are Mormons) are broken down as an entire nation unites in hopes 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.

Thought for the day: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)

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