Movie Review: The Jesus Film Project
Updated: May 16, 2022
The Jesus Film was one of the first resources I reviewed in preparation for writing my biblical fiction. See Media Review below.
The Jesus Film is a two-hour film telling the Biblical story of Jesus and God's redemptive love. It ran in American theatres in 1979 and is now translated into 1,724 languages and is recognized by The Guinness Book of World Records as the "Most Translated Film" in history. It can be seen online for free, with no subscription, login, or special app required. Producers make many films available for viewing on their website:
The Jesus Film Project is an initiative of Cru (previously called Campus Crusade for Christ). It is an evangelical organization co-founded by Bill Bright and his wife Vonette Bright and it is unapologetically complementarian in its interpretations of the Bible. However, the films stick closely to the biblical text, which liberates women. The original full-length Jesus Film follows Luke's gospel.
In the 1970s Cru started a program called FamilyLife to promote a conservative view of family and gender roles, homosexuality and abortion. In 1976, Cru launched an evangelical drive called "I Found It". The Jesus film was financed by Campus Crusade supporters and produced by John Heyman. Cru edited the original Jesus film, cutting and pasting to create different versions for use as an evangelistic tool. These were done against the wishes of the producer John Heyman, and the parties settled the dispute out of court. In the 1980s, Cru supported the Moral Majority political organization. In the 1990s Cru endorsed the complementarian position that men have roles as leaders and women as nurturers in the home. Cru has launched programs in recent years designed to appeal to African, Asian, and Latino ethnicities. In 2011, Campus Crusade for Christ changed its name to avoid association with the crusades, offensive in particular to Muslims.
Since the original Jesus Film, Cru has produced a collection of many films telling various biblical stories for different audiences.
Magdalena: Released from Shame, a one-hour film produced in 2007. It shows Mary Magdalena ministering to other women, remembering her time as Jesus' disciple and receiving the great commission from Jesus using clips from the 1979 Jesus film. The clips are dramatically different from the 2007 filming. It is now available in 200 languages. Mary Magdalene's demon possession is dramatized and the crowd calls her untouchable, yet Jesus honours her by calling her a daughter of Abraham. The Jesus Film website acknowledges that some people associate Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman of Luke 7 but affirms that there is no biblical basis for portraying her as a prostitute. The writers acknowledge that while the culture of the day treated women as second-class citizens, Jesus respected them and chose them to be the first witnesses of his resurrection.
In the story of the women patrons, the clip says that women contributed from their households to support Jesus and his disciples. The images show them providing food and drink. The wording implies they are providing financially from their husband or father's resources, downplaying their personal commitment. Luke 8:3 actually says these women "and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples." (NLT)
For children, they have produced short, animated films. I enjoyed the 2021 nine-minute film, Chosen Witness, which shows Mary Magdalene as the first witness of the resurrected Jesus.
Pros: Dramatizes the biblical stories; often uses exact biblical text in scripting. The text on the JesusFilm website states how the gospel of Jesus liberates women and that Jesus demonstrated his care for women.
Cons: Film quality reflects the era of production. Some acting is stilted; characters are not well-developed. The Film Project limits the women's roles to only be teaching and ministering to other women.