Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 03/22/21

Resurrection drops (or should I say rises) on Discovery+ this Saturday (3/27). The film is produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, through their MGM-based LightWorkers Media shingle. The Hollywood power couple shocked the industry with the huge popularity of their adaptation of The Bible on History in 2013, followed the successful theatrical release Son of God a year later and, in 2015, the NBC miniseries A.D. The Bible Continues.

My conversation with Downey, beloved by millions of TV viewers for her nine-season run as Monica in the classic CBS series Touched by an Angel (1994-2003), begins below the Resurrection trailer.

JWK: So, tell me about what I guess you’d call the genesis of Resurrection. I know it stems from The Bible which you produced for the History cable channel, which begat Son of God which was released in theaters and A.D. which ran on the NBC broadcast network. Now, as if to cover all the modes of distribution, Resurrection is going to stream on Discovery+. How did that deal come about?
Roma Downey: We’re so grateful to Discovery+ who partnered with us to air our beautiful Easter movie Resurrection on March 27th and then will play all through the Easter season…When we went into lockdown, my husband and I said “Wouldn’t it be great if (during this time) we could put together projects that were really uplifting and hopeful. You know, it wasn’t a time that we could do a lot of filmmaking so we went back into the way that we had created Son of God from the Bible series.  We decided to craft and shape and create Resurrection from A.D. It was something that came together beautifully in the edit. It’s a 90-minute film that, I think, is very compelling. It’s exciting. It’s dramatic. It’s got tension. It’s full of emotion. It (was) beautifully shot. Of course, we shot it down in Morocco. We built the Jerusalem Temple. We built Jerusalem streets…We had over 50 craftsmen working to build that particular set and it was fantastic. Then, once we had added actors, extras, camels, horses, donkeys, goats and chickens, it just came beautifully alive…and add on top of that the Hans Zimmer score and we just have a fabulous movie. The Resurrection story, of course, is the greatest story of hope that we have.
In a different time, perhaps, we would have hoped to put it in theaters…but, I think, under the circumstance, we didn’t want to hold onto it. We wanted to get it on – to be available for this Easter because everybody’s had such a challenging year and we felt, really, that everybody is ready for hope. It’s as if we’ve all been in our own tombs – cut off from each other, cut off from our loved ones. We’re all longing to break out of the tomb. So, I think the theme of Resurrection is pertinent to the world that we live in today. There’s a hunger for hope now more than ever. That Resurrection is available on Discovery+ to be seen from the comfort and safety of your own home, I think is a blessing.

JWK: So, even though it was cut from the much-longer A.D. miniseries, Resurrection has the pacing of a movie.

RD: Yes, absolutely, it does. It’s 90-minutes (and) plays out very, very fast. It’s a nonstop thriller, really. A lot of other movies in this genre really get into the Crucifixion and the Passion of Jesus. We did so ourselves with Son of God…but here we chose to tell the story primarily through the point of view of the disciples. So, the movie kicks off with the Crucifixion and immediately we go into (the POV of) the disciples…fearful that, if they(the Romans) killed Jesus maybe they were going to be next. Scripture tells us that, in the crowd, Peter was recognized and, out of fear for his own life, he denied that he knew Jesus…As Jesus predicted he would, he denied Jesus three times. They all scattered.
The only people we know were at the Cross from The Bible were John the Beloved, Mary the Mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. So, our story opens up with the three of them…and Peter is the first to return. He’s feeling guilty, heartbroken. He’s afraid and feeling confused. And then slowly, one by one, the other disciples all (return) and they don’t know what to do. They’re arguing among themselves. “Should we go home?” “Should we leave Jerusalem?” “Should we get outta here?”
In our story, we have the women – and, in particular, Mary the Mother of Jesus – say “Don’t you owe (it to Him) to stay. He promised us he would rise in three days.” So, they all decide that they will wait.
Meanwhile, we see the tension in the city. The Romans are ruling with their iron fist as the temple authorities are preparing for Passover. They’re very keen to keep peace and order in the city…Then they discover that Joseph of Arimathea had very kindly offered his tomb (for Jesus’ body) to be buried. (The fear was that) the disciples would try to steal the body of Jesus and then pretend that he had risen. (Pontius Pilate was told) “You’ve got to (get) some soldiers, you’ve got to get a Roman seal (and) you’ve got to lock this down. You’ve got to put the guards at the tomb and put the seal on the stone and make sure that they do not steal His body or this won’t go away. This myth will grow.”
So, in a beautiful scene we see the guards at the tomb and, of course, on the third day, the sky opens and this amazing strong warrior angel comes down and is larger than life standing on the tomb. And, in a moment that gives me goosebumps every time I see it, from behind the stone that it took three or four men to roll in place, we see light starting to appear…and we know at that moment that Jesus has risen. The angel pushes the stone away and the look on the Roman guards’ faces is just… You know, they can’t believe what they’re seeing. Jesus has risen from the dead and the world is forever changed!
JWK: It’s sort of amazing that we’re talking about this film airing via Discovery+ since, I think it’s fair to say, most industry people were taken off guard by the success you had with The Bible on History.
RD: (People) at that time said we were crazy to make The Bible. They said “Who would want to see The Bible on TV?” Well, it turns out over 100-million people in America alone wanted to see The Bible on TV. It was a huge success for the History Channel.
JWK: The Resurrection has, of course, been presented on screen before – including by you and your husband. What does this presentation offer that we might not have seen presented before?
RD: I think that we haven’t really seen it from the disciples’ point of view so strongly…It’s the Book of Acts and we haven’t seen too much of that in film…One of the very empowering (scenes depicts) Pentecost. Jesus has already gone to Heaven. He (had) told them that He will send the Holy Spirit to seal them (and) to inspire them (but) they don’t really know what that means? What’s that gonna look like? What is it gonna feel like?
In the scene in the Upper Room, with great special effects we were able to bring in these rings of fire and we see them alive with the Spirit! Then, when they finally come out of that room and down the steps, they’re speaking languages that they didn’t even know they could speak. They’re speaking in tongues. They’re ready now to go forth and spread the Gospel! That’s what Jesus asked them to do. It’s the last thing he asked of them – to go tell the world!
So, at the end of the movie, we do a little summation reminding the audience of the disciples – where they went and what they did. You know, (the Christian faith) started with just a handful of people and…we’re now over two-billion. You kind of leave the experience of watching the film feeling that you belong to something extraordinary.
Next time: In part two of my conversation with Roma Downey, she’ll talk about what’s ahead for LightWorkers Media, the production company she runs with her husband Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice, Shark Tank) and the possibility that you may soon be seeing her acting in an episodic TV series again.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
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