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Beyond the Gates: New Film Brings Important Story to a New Generation

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (ANS) -- The story of five missionary men -- Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian -- speared to death by the feared "Auca" Indians of Ecuador in 1956, has been told and retold through book, film, theater, and other avenues. Yet much of the world still has never heard the amazing story of redemption for this one group of people deep within the heart of the Amazon.

According to Christian Film News, the new "Beyond the Gates" movie was originally intended as a dramatic presentation. "Beyond the Gates" became a documentary to be completed around September 2002.

With a new change in the production team, listed the Executive Producer as Mart Green (Bearing Fruit Communications), Producer Kevin McAfee, Writer/Producer/Director Bill Ewing, Co-Director Jim Hanon (Bearing Fruit Entertainment/Compass Arts), with other involvement by Dave and Miles Hanon. Christian contemporary artist Steven Curtis Chapman also teamed up to help promote the project during his musical tours. The production team released this feature documentary to select theaters in late 2002.

Executive Producer Mart Green mentioned that in August 2002, the producers took the finished documentary to Ecuador and showed it to the Waodani [formerly known as the "Aucas"]. He said at the time: "This will be the first public showing of the documentary and we are excited that the Wao will be the first ones to see it. We will then bring it back and show it to the widows and their children in mid-August."

What is "Beyond the Gates"?

The movie's website reports that Beyond the Gates is a feature-length reality film that tells the story of how North American families became part of a Stone Age tribe in the Amazon jungle, after that same tribe had speared to death their loved ones.

"The film combines interviews with character story telling to carry the audience from the early 1950's to the present day across two continents and three languages as well as from the Stone Age to the twenty first century," the website says.

Jim Hanon, Director/Writer, writing in a "director's journal" said: "The story begins in the Eastern Amazon Basin with interviews of the actual Waodani, who had speared five missionaries in 1956, a story made famous in Life Magazine. The Waodani were known at the time as Aucas and were the most violent society ever documented. Six out of every ten adult Waodani deaths were from homicide.

"The wife of one the men and sister of another went to live with the tribe after their loved ones were speared. Within two years the homicide rate in the tribe dropped over ninety percent.

"Years later the son of one of the men who was killed moved his family from Florida to live with the tribe. His children learned to call one of the elders in the tribe 'grandfather,' even though he was one of the same men who killed their real grandfather.

"This is a story of how love can transform any situation and how faith makes a family from the most opposite of people," he said.

Hanon said Beyond the Gates was made so that this story, that reveals so many insights about faith and family could be discovered by a broad audience.

"The reality and documentary film style was chosen because we want the authenticity of the story to be fully understood. In this case the truth goes beyond our imagination. We also want the audience to have a film experience, that is, an emotional journey through fascinating characters with whom you laugh and cry and see some part of yourself. In the end we hope the audience is entertained and is thankful for the journey as they leave the film with a more meaningful and hopeful sense of faith and family.

The Director's Trail

Hanon said: "This story spanned three generations and three cultures and we knew it would be imperative to have a central, cohesive thread for the audience to follow. During filming, writing and editing I was constantly faced with the choice of what to emphasize and what to omit. We filmed a staggering one hundred and twenty hours of footage and the truth be told another director making the film could arrive at something entirely different than this version by making different choices in the edit.

"Few documentaries reach a substantial audience and our desire to draw a larger audience to the film affected how we approached making it. Documentation is the primary task of a documentary film, but humanity sees facts through emotions. There is really no getting around it. The facts about a story are colored by the emotions of the people who lived the story. We set out to document emotions as well as the facts behind them. This is the human journey and so was also the journey of the film making team," said Hanon.

"From the start I believed that the people we needed to interview would share more from the heart if they loved and trusted the person interviewing them. I had never met any of the people before except for Steve Saint who was five years old when his father Nate was killed. He knew all of the family members involved in the story and held their trust. We asked him to not only set up the interviews but conduct them as well. I reviewed a list of questions with him and operated the camera.

"Our production manager David can tell you this is not the most efficient way to approach filming. The massive amount of footage makes a strong testament to this fact. Yet, in the end it was the only way we knew to get the authentic and genuine emotional feeling we have in the interviews. We would come to a moment in each interview where the person talking to Steve would see him in the story with them and the camera would be lost and they would share a memory together. This film is a collection and documentation of these intimate memories," said Hanon.

"When you shoot more film than planned it ripples through the production cycle. More film means more editing. As it is many of the people we interviewed never made it into the final edit. This valuable footage will no doubt find its use in the future as specific parts of the story warrant illumination. I have fond memories of the interview stages of the filming that I'm sure will grow fonder as time passes and we gather our strength again. As part of making the interview as comfortable as possible we traveled to where the people lived and often filmed in their homes. These homes ranged in location from South America and Florida to Chicago and Seattle, and most places in between."

Hanon recalled: "Steve (Saint) told us early on that we would one day walk away from this story and move on to the next film project. He and the rest of the families we interviewed did not have that option and would have to deal with whatever happened as a result of the film we made. Though no one in the film team was born into the story, I can tell you the people we interviewed often made us feel like family."

The South American Screening

The movie website reports that on August 2, 2002, Executive Producers Mart Green and Bill Ewing along with Producer Kevin McAfee, Director/Writer Jim Hanon, Production Manager David Hanon, Editor Miles Hanon, Steve Saint and Steve McCully led a large group of North Americans to Nemopade, Ecuador to the South American Family Reunion and Screening.

"The documentary had just been finished a couple of days before this and the first audience for the documentary would be the Waodani. There were 35 from North America who had traveled down to visit with the Wao. Steven Curtis Chapman and his two sons and several of his band members were a part of the group. The Wao loved to hear Steven as he sang to them, the website says.

Over 100 Waodani were in attendance for the showing which took place on August 6h. Many had walked in through the jungle over the course of several days to be there.

"We had carried a reflective movie screen with us but needed to construct a stand for it. The makeshift movie screen was held up with sticks that the Wao had cut and the bottom was held secure by a 9-foot blowgun. The theater seats had been jungle trees just a few hours earlier. The Wao went out and cut down trees and made boards with a chain saw then used stumps to hold up the new seats. It was exciting to see their response to the film. Dayumae, Mincaye and Ompodae, Kimo and Dawa, Dyuwi and Dabo all sat on the front row. When the film was over the Waodani gave the film a hearty hand clap."

The North American Screening

According to the movie website, on August 17 the producers had the North American Family Reunion and Screening where they showed the film in a theater for the first time.

"All 5 of the women and their nine children who lost their husbands and fathers were in attendance. This was the first time since 1957 that all 14 had been together. The 45-year wait was well worth it. Tears of joy were shed throughout the weekend as old friendships were rekindled and new ones were formed."

The "families" that were in attendance included the five families who represented the story from 1956, the Bearing Fruit family, the I-Tec (ministry run by Steve Saint) family and the Wycliffe family and donor family.

"It was an incredible blessing to have all of these groups come together to share what the Lord had done in bringing this project to completion," the producers said afterwards.

"After the screening of the movie the group sat in silence for a moment to take in the power of the movie. Then there was a time of sharing in which all 5 of the women and several of their children shared their thoughts. Their unanimous feeling was that the movie was a powerful tool that had great potential to reach a whole new generation with this story."

Whose Idea Was It to Make the Movie?

"Mart Green had the vision and put the film team together which has now grown to be Bearing Fruit Communications and Bearing Fruit Entertainment, said Steve Saint.

"Mart heard Mincaye and me speak at a Wycliffe Associates anniversary celebration. Mincaye summed up his testimony by saying, 'we acted badly, badly until they (Aunt Rachel and Betty Elliot) brought us God's carvings, now we walk His trail.' That impacted Mart and he thought people in our own culture need to hear this story of transformation and reconciliation.

"I was actually quite involved. I served as the go-between to the five families and to the Waodani tribe. I got to conduct all of the interviews and got to fly the recreations of Dad Nate doing the bucket drop. Then, the Director, Jim Hanon decided he wanted someone in the story to do the narration; and I got to be the voice inside the story, telling the story.

What was is like for Saint to revisit the story again? "It is an incredible story. It grows more and more powerful the more detail I understand of it. But then, God is the Master storyteller. He is writing millions of stories with people's lives all around the world. Great stories. But every once in a while He chooses one to publish. This is not a unique story really, but it is one that caught people's attention and was used by God to motivate tens of thousands of people to make themselves available to His service.

"It is the hope of the Bearing Fruit film team that the story will now impact a secular audience. It is made for that audience, though it will appeal to Christian audiences for sure."

Saint concluded: "I am merely serving the story. This is something God is doing."

Michael Ireland is an international British freelance journalist. A former reporter with a London newspaper, Michael is the Chief Correspondent for ASSIST News Service of Garden Grove, CA. Michael immigrated to the United States in 1982 and became a U.S. citizen in Sept., 1995. He is married with two children. Michael has also been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station.

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