Martin Doblmeier is president and founder of Journey Films, an independent television and film documentary production company founded in 1984 to produce programs that explore religion and spirituality, history and social issues. His most recent film, The Adventists, aired on PBS member stations during National Public Health Week, April 5-11 2010.
RD: You have created films about some remarkable movements and individuals over the course of your career. When and how did you decide to produce The Adventists?
MD: For the last two years of her life my mother was cared for at Florida Hospital in Orlando, an Adventist hospital. She always remarked to me how pleased she was with the care she received and I was very touched by that. After all, she was my mother.
But another part of it was an invitation I received from two Adventist friends (Gary and Lee Blount) to come to Loma Linda University to present one of my earlier films – BONHOEFFER – at a major church event. During the weekend my wife and I were given a tour of the medical center. We saw the proton accelerator and met Dr. Len Bailey, Dr. Ellsworth Wareham and others. It began to crystallize for me the idea of making a film that could explore the intersection of faith and health care.
We tried for several years to raise funding but were not successful. I think in many ways it was providential that we finally raised the funding and began production in 2009 so the film could be released now, at a time when the nation is so embroiled in the health care debate. Some would say the timing was good luck. I prefer to think it was something more.
RD: Why did you choose to focus specifically on Adventism and health?
MD: It is never easy to get films with a focus on religion and faith on national television, especially films with strong denominational themes. But I was convinced that keeping the focus on Adventism and its unique approach to health care would enable us to reach a wider audience and to make the film as timely as it is. The fact that Adventists are living longer and seemingly healthier lives is a story worth telling to the entire nation.
On a more personal level, “health care work is sacred work” and the notion that we care for the body because it is a “gift from God” are not ideas we normally hear on prime time television. But these ideas, I believe, represent the sentiments of many Americans. I think PBS recognized this, which is why the response across the country has been so positive.
RD: You interviewed some of Adventism’s best and brightest. How was your interviewing experience? What was your impression of the individual Adventists you met during your research process?
MD: What really intrigued me during the process of making the film was how well the more complex notions of theology and the more practical aspects of health care have been interwoven within Adventist culture. Rather than being a tangential issue, health care in Adventism is actually an extension of a carefully thought out theology. This made each one of the interviews a challenge, but it was also a great deal of fun to engage folks, to push them to their own limits. I have had a chance over my 25 years of filmmaking to interview some brilliant minds in religion. Many of the Adventist “thinkers” I met along this journey were among the most thoughtful and reflective people I have encountered.
RD: Has your own approach to wellness changed as a result of your research?
MD: I believe that every film I make is a special opportunity to not only share through film what I have experienced and learned, but also to apply it to myself. If I take to heart what I heard over and over, that the body is the “Temple of the Holy Spirit” and that it was given to us in sacred trust, then it can’t help but shape how I care for my own body. I am 58 years old and maybe I was given this opportunity as a “wake-up” call. I am now avoiding red meat, exercising more and challenging myself daily to respect the gift I have been given.
RD: In the film, Roy Branson noted that the Great Disappointment is still a part of the Adventist collective consciousness. Did you find that to be true during your research? How do you see the historical event continuing to shape Adventism’s sense of identity and mission in the world?
MD: During the making of the film I often heard it said the church “started with a Great Disappointment but it won’t end with one.” I suppose there is some residue from that chapter of history but I saw little tangible evidence myself. What I do admire about Adventists is their willingness to live life with an eye to the near coming of Christ which gives everything a spiritual sense of urgency. Maybe that is why Adventists have been so successful at creating leading educational and health institutions, establishing overseas hospitals, etc. We all recognize that our time here is finite, but Adventists are not sitting around waiting.
RD: Your film makes us look very good. Thank you! During your research, was there anything you learned about Adventism that you didn’t like, or that you found repelling? (Feel free to be honest!)
MD: My focus for The Adventists was on faith and health care because I felt that Adventist have much good to share with the nation. But I was surprised to learn how the church as an institution avoids bringing its considerable voice into the political fray. On one side I admire the notion of staying “above” the arguments, but Adventism has a lot to say about education and health care particularly, and I believe the denomination could do more to influence legislation toward substantive and lasting positive change.
I am also happy to lend my insignificant voice to the need for the ordination of women ministers in the Adventist church. By producing films involving other faith traditions, I have witnessed how ordained women are doing extraordinary things. It is an opportunity missed.
RD: What did you not address in the film that you wish you could’ve? Is there anything you had to leave out because of time constraints, lack of existing research, or because of your target audience?
MD: One of the chapters I could not tell because of time constraints was the remarkable work being done by the church beyond our borders. There are one million Adventists in the United States, upwards of 14 million outside the US. And the mission work being done in remote areas, particularly the health care work, is truly amazing. Maybe we need to do The Adventists II and just focus on overseas work.
RD: What responses have you received from Adventist and non-Adventist audiences respectively?
MD: I have been traveling the US since the first of the year giving special screenings and leading conversations in churches and colleges. The Jewish comedians used to say they were on the “borscht” circuit. I feel like I am on the “haystack” circuit. It is true that most of my invitations have come from Adventists, but there is a sense within Adventist communities that having a non-Adventist make such a film is something unique. The response has been absolutely terrific. In some places as many as 2,000 people have come out for a single event. That happened at Loma Linda and at Andrews University. But other showings have been equally enthusiastic and enjoyable for me personally. One of the nicest things I hear being said is “Thank you for making this film.” That is the most fulfilling thing people can say.
RD: How can Spectrum readers purchase a copy of The Adventists for personal viewing?
MD: The Adventists is available at www.journeyfilms.com or through Amazon. They make great gifts for family, friends and all those “fallen-away”Adventists. ________________________
Martin Doblmeier will be the featured speaker at the Adventist Forum Conference October 8-10, 2010, in Palm Springs, California.
Doblmeier will interact with young Adventist film producers and will reflect on his own career as a documentary film maker. The theme for the weekend is "Present Truth in Visual Media: How Film Illuminates Faith."
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2340