At the end of any project, it’s a good idea to reflect upon the journey.
We thought we’d do so out loud.
Paradise Recovered was first a collection of notes for a novel. Then it was a screenplay. Then it was a 17 day production in two states with a road trip in the middle. Then it was a feature film travelling the country on a film festival circuit.
We made Paradise Recovered for a number of reasons. But the biggest reason? We’re Christians.
Yep. That’s right. Christians.
Before you roll your eyes or think we’re about to walk you through four spiritual laws or some five-fold plan of salvation or curse you to hell, please hear us out.
We are Christians in that we do our best daily to follow the teachings of a man who lived in Palestine a long time ago. We fail at this mission. Daily. We admit this freely.
This man’s mission, as recorded for us in the Gospels, was to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for prisoners, to recover sight for the blind, and to release the oppressed.
Interestingly, there are leaders in our world who claim to follow this man who preach anything but good news. They enslave, blind, and oppress broken people. They take their money and threaten them with hell if they don’t ‘freely give’.
And they do so in the name of this same man from Palestine.
These leaders tie up heavy loads of rules and dogma, loading them on the shoulders of these broken people.
And then, when the broken people inevitably stumble under the burden of this legalism? These leaders cast them aside and call them names. Backslidden. Traitors. High-minded. Lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.
They cast them out of their sight with no regard to what they just did to someone’s soul.
As if God could love this kind of torment of another human being in his name.
It makes us angry. And it made the man from Palestine furious.
When we buried our friends because of these kinds of aberrant teachings because of suicide or a refusal to seek treatment for treatable medical conditions – when the abusers were never held accountable? It made us angry.
Like cleansing the Temple kind of angry.
After reading the Gospels again, we felt we were in good company.
So we wanted to make a statement about this kind of treatment. We created a fictitious fundamentalist sect, rooted in facts taken from stories from over 100 survivors from 18 different sects.
And much like the man from Palestine? We decided to tell a story.
It’s a story that resonates with people of faith and atheists alike. Because the skeptic in our story is kind and compassionate. He stands up for that which is righteous and good, and he experiences a reconciliation that might never have happened otherwise.
We like to say that we made a film about faith where the atheist is the hero.
Kind of like a story the man from Palestine told about a despised Samaritan who acted more in accordance with the faith than the teachers of the law.
It wasn’t a big Hollywood production. It was a small story, so we told it simply. It didn’t need a large budget. It needed good actors and a skilled crew to help us pull it off. We were fortunate enough to find people willing to help. We are forever grateful to these people.
The project was never about getting rich. In fact, any profit we see is being shared with those actors and that crew.
Besides, that man from Palestine cautioned us about riches. Said we might miss the point of the Kingdom of God if we had them.
We sort of took him seriously, believing that there is such a thing as enough. Or, at least, wanting to believe it.
(We did mention that we fail, right?)
The project was about using film to tell a story to help people see how they have been abused. How we have been abusive, sometimes knowingly and sometimes without malice. But always because we were taught something about faith and ourselves that simply isn’t true. And the project was designed to give hope both to the abuser and the abused.
Because those of us who abuse might often have been abused ourselves. It is our prayer that when we know a better way, we will act accordingly. And an ‘I’m sorry for all that I have done’ can go a very, very long way in healing what is broken.
Even if what is broken appears to be beyond repair.
We wanted to communicate to audiences that there is always hope. That freedom is essential for living any life of faith. That people who are ready to join and lay down their lives for a church ought never be exploited, but championed for the self-sacrificing, wonderful people that they are.
We wanted people to know that Christianity is more than tithing or wearing modest clothing. Those things aren’t necessarily bad, but they aren’t components of the faith once delivered. Nor are they necessary for having deep faith in God.
Our faith is not rooted in the fear of the future. It is decidedly more than creating a self-righteous ghetto where only ‘we’ know the truth – and the world knows nothing and has nothing to offer.
The Christian faith is about a man who suffered and died because he told stories. Stories that made people really angry. Because the stories were the truth, and they knew it. So they killed him for it. And the people that killed him did so out of religious zeal. Because they wanted to be right with God.
We believe that this same man invites us to come and listen to his stories again with fresh eyes. And if we have been so burdened and abused as he was, he invites us to sit and rest and put the book away. He allows for anger. He allows for justice. And in the strangest twist? He allows for mercy.
And if we cannot give mercy, he reminds us that he will give it for us.
As filmmakers who happen to be Christians, we invite you to take a new look at faith through the eyes of Esther Harris. And through her manager at the health food store, Gabriel. And through the eyes of her husband to be, Philip. To learn what faith is and what faith is not. To use our film as a tool to ask your own questions while loving those around you.
Because if we help one person heal? Then our film will not have been made in vain.
We hope we have an opportunity to make another feature. We’re working to that end now. Not necessarily a Christian film, but, as one of our reviewers said, “a film a Christian would make.” And that kind of filmmaking involves truth-telling and having a lot of fun while working really hard.
Here’s to recovering your own personal Paradise! We’d love to hear from you.
Storme Wood and Andie Redwine