"Tell The World" Marks Cinematic Step Forward for the Adventist Church

Tell the World is an ambitious film that represents a step forward for a Seventh-day Adventist production, breaking out from the traditional “talking heads” documentary.

It’s a difficult film to label because it looks like a movie—through imagined reconstructions of characters and conversations—but acts like a documentary—whose primary role seems to be conveying information. In effect, it’s a “moviementary”: a dramatised history of the origins and the foundation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It represents progress in an Adventist understanding of how visual media works best: as a communicator of attitudes, emotions and values rather than of information.

Tell the World begins with the origins of the Millerite movement in the 1830s, with William Miller as the central character. It switches about halfway through to Ellen White as the Millerites gradually organise into the Adventist Church with distinctive doctrines and emphases such as the Sabbath, the health message and education. The film attempts to explain the key theological and religious ideas that drove the church’s pioneers while fleshing out the founders of Adventism so they come across as real people.

The cinematic step forward is in dramatising the facts, with the intention of making denominational history more appealing and memorable. The film does this well. It looks professional—quality sets, locations and costumes contribute to the high production values. The professional actors are almost uniformly good, creating believable characters and credible emotions. The cinematography is excellent and the directing assured. One shot stands out: White standing on a snow-covered ridge, in mourning following the death of her eldest son, Henry. The framing is exquisite and the tone speaks more eloquently of sorrow than does copious screen weeping. The actress who plays White, Tommie-Amber Pirie, handles her role with aplomb, as convincing with her vision scenes as with the emotionally-charged scenes of the loss of two of her sons.

However, the film is overweighed with history. The screenwriter, Aaron Hartzler, struggles to include the many theological issues of the era, particularly the now-obscure ones of the Millerite movement, while trying to keep the film from bogging down with exposition at the expense of narrative.

The medium of film is ill-suited to explaining complex ideas such as the sanctuary doctrine. It’s more effective in humanising characters such as White and the church’s other pioneers, which Tell the World partially accomplishes. To see the interactions of the principal characters, particularly their disagreements and arguments, and the subtle touches, such as the critics of Adventism meeting in a tavern, is one of the most persuasive features of the film.

Rightly handled, Tell the World is an ideal educational tool rather than a stand-alone cinematic text. Its imposing length and density of historical detail suggest it’s best presented not at a single screening but episodically, with time to discuss and unpack the story with the assistance of additional textual information. While the film struggles to communicate an excess of Adventist apologetics and history, the church should be congratulated for its increasingly assured and effective use of visual media.

Historical movies capture viewers who ordinarily won’t read a book. The movies often act as catalysts for viewers to do their own research. Perhaps the church’s next move should be to produce a miniseries, allowing the full development of characters, as inspiration for audiences to seek historical detail, which is best presented in print rather than on screen.

Daniel Reynaud is Assistant Dean (Learning and Teaching) in the Faculty of Arts, Nursing and Theology at Avondale College of Higher Education. He lectures in modern history and the intersection of history, literature and media. His interest lies in the Anzac legend and its representation in early Australian films. He has worked with the National Film and Sound Archive in the recovery and partial reconstruction of several silent films, includingThe Hero of the Dardanelles(1915), Australia’s first Gallipoli movie.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7635

seems like history well told. It’s theological advancement is doubtful. No serious mind travels through the corn field experience to an understanding of Advocacy or yet a misunderstanding of Judgement. The. Health. Messageand the educational emphasis are notable. The problem is the overreach of revelation. As a recoup of Millerism. What an effort to rehabilitate Miller and justify his embarrassed followers. TZ

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this is an interesting review…i hope i get the chance to see “tell the world”…i very much enjoyed “the record keeper”…i’m sure i’ll enjoy “tell the world”, as well…

…a “docu-drama”, perhaps?

A definite “must-see” in my book. Dramatic form is not best suited for dissemination of detailed and lengthy exposition of facts and concepts, but rather to give one thematic idea heightened impact through the emotions of the characters that are caught up in the historical moment. Maybe some viewers will be able to wade through the profusion of details and be able to experience, somewhat, the Advent movement through the eyes of those who lived it.

Who is the intended audience of the film? If for Adventists, it would give them more history that is often lacking. But for a general audience? Where would it be shown? Who would be interested?

If for Adventists, why? Is this expected to be more convincing that they have joined the right movement? And why try explaining a dead issue: the sanctuary? That is the pet doctrine that has little or nothing to offer for one’s assurance of salvation. And who funded the entire production with what purpose other than more historical background on Adventism’s beginning? Does that not place more emphasis on a man-made religion than God? Self-adulation is a thread running through this church.

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Many of them are NOT FOR SALE, so no watching on one’s own DVD player, or showing to SDA church friends.

Remember the ones that are Locked Away in some vault in some dungeon of Silver Springs.

EDIT–
Tim-
Other church denominations have 4 pillars that they can use — 1. Scripture. 2. Tradition 3. Reason. 4. Experience.
Since the SDA church has rejected all other Christian religious groups, we do not have these pillars as resources in our Schools of Theology, Nor in our local church Bible Study groups like Sabbath School and Church sermons by our pastors.
There ARE some SDA members, and there ARE some SDA church pastors who have, and who are attempting to use these 4 pillars in their ministry. But it has not been easy for them. Some of them and their churches are questioned whether they are True Adventist churches.

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I could not agree more. It seems like the church is focusing more and more on being “right”, and less and less on being like Jesus…

Edit-

@niteguy2
Those 4 pillars are useless in the church today. 1) The very thing that Adventism used to accuse the Catholics of, most members don’t read the Scriptures for themselves, has come home to roost.
2) Tradition leads to nothing but ritualistic adherence - and that with the individual flavors given by each subscribing group or their leaders.
3) Reason doesn’t work because first of all a God who loves us in spite of the way we treat Him is beyond reason. Secondly, we are not looking for the truth, we have all been told what the truth is, and we continue to try to prove that.
That leaves Experience. That is the angle that I tried to weave into every message. Where I have tried, where I have failed, where I may have allowed Him to succeed in me. Show those who seek Him that He is ultimately the One to accept or reject them, not the church, and He always accepts. But people no longer believe that they can be forgiven or accepted, it seems. Someone, somewhere along the line sold them on the lie that God is as arbitrary and vindictive as they are, and it is very easy to believe, logical even, that we are not worthy to be saved.
Yes, there are some, thank God, in every denomination - not just Adventism - who still seek Him in every effort. But I believe that most of them simply want a god they can understand, define, or manipulate.
It’s really the feeling of superiority, exclusivity, that gets them. Just like humility, the very moment you think you have it mastered, the truth flees from you.

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Annita and I have now watched the movie right through once, but in several sittings. Here in Australia it’s selling for AU$5.00 at our local Adventist Book Center in Cooranbong. I have just completed reading George Knight’s Millennial Fever and would strongly recommend that every person who sees the movie should then read, or reread, that book. Glamorizing the denomination’s history might be popular but we do better when we know the facts.
I was impressed with the human interest stories and the portrayal of Ellen White’s first trance, to the shock of those with her. However, viewers unaware of the advances of modern telescopy can be prejudiced by the portayal of a later vision she experienced in the presence of Joseph Bates. In the movie, heavenly bodies are seen as we see them today. There is no way of knowing, even with Bates’ commentary, what she actually saw. Then there is the incident, seriously questioned by some, in which young Ellen White held an open heavy Bible and, without reading certain texts, pointed to them and recited them at the same time, is included in the movie as authentic. In this way the movie attempts to secure in the minds of its viewers Ellen White as a prophetess with an essential role in the establishment and future of Seventh-day Adventism. On the other hand it goes nowhere near enough to exposing both the strengths and weaknesses (and there are some) in the arguments employed in the unique doctrines of Seventh-day Adventism.
Yes. It is just a human interest story that reveals eccentricities, naiveté, honesty, hope, faith, mistakes and enthusiasm that were all characteristics of the original players in this drama. Having believed that Christ would come at a certain time and having suffered the blow of bitter disappointment, rather than abandoning that hope they regroup with a new determination to still proclaim the Advent near.
If the denomination is to learn anything from this movie it should be reminded of and remember that goal, at least, of its forefathers.

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Sounds interesting and possibly entertaining. Might even provide a talking point around the water cooler. “Cinematic” is just about right. This series of “stills” is employed to fabricate the illusion of (a) “movement”. And that’s just what Adventists refer to when speaking of Adventism. Surely the history may find it’s home as fact (or factoid). But is the “movement” really moving? Is that motion an illusion? And in what direction is it headed?

If “Tell the World” tells the truth about Adventism, then where does it end? Does Adventism find utility in drawing from grace to connect sinners with the savior? Or does Adventism continue to celebrate it’s differences from the world and draw lines in the sand to separate itself from the sinners He came to save?

Just what are Adventists to tell the world? Just what actually is being told (and to whom)? I hope that Adventists use their rich history as a rock to stand upon and not a stone to throw. Knowing where they stand (in Jesus and in history) is the first step in effectively reaching out to lift up the lost both in and out of Adventism. Bringing them each to the very feet of the One who loved the world (and ALL those in it) first and most seems best to tell.

“Tell the World” is both a bold and daring command. Adventists did not hatch this notion first. Yet, still the world beckons for a telling of the Truth which cannot be ultimately denied. If the Adventists do not tell it, some one else will surely comply. God choses whom He will and will obey. His agents may indeed cause one to wonder (“rocks cry out”). But in the end, in the seeming gamble of life, God beats the house every time.

Are Adventists telling the world just what God wants to be heard? All I need do is listen to my gay coworker, my muslim neighbor, my atheist friend, my Sabbath School class and my son. What story are they being told?

“Tell the World” (Cinematic Step Forward…): a metaphor and retelling of God’s command and desire? “Tell the World” (Matthew 28:167-20): a lifestyle and foundation to obey, to show and to love. God’s command and holy desire!

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