Churches to Play Key Role in Next 'Left Behind' Flick

Salem, USA - "Don't throw popcorn, please silence your cell phone, and be courteous to those around you in the ... church?" No, that should not read "theater." On October 21, 2005, thousands will view Left Behind: World at War at a local church instead of a cinema - the first time ever for such a release.

This entirely new distribution system will not only challenge fundamental Hollywood rules, but also provide churches with an enormous opportunity for outreach into their local communities.

“Christians are on earth to spread the message of the gospel, which this clearly movie does,” says Whitney Kelly, a spokesperson for the film. “By engaging with the culture, pastors can bring in people who otherwise would not darken the door of a church, yet will come to a movie. It brings the social hub back to the church, where it once was."

The film's star Kirk Cameron loves the idea. “It is something that has never been done before, but the idea of creating a distribution system that aims to open on as many screens as Hollywood's biggest films is ingenious. If this works as we all wholeheartedly believe it will, then to access this new delivery method, Hollywood studios will have make good family films that are acceptable for pastors to show in their churches. It is the next step in the process after The Passion. This is how we can impact what Hollywood produces."

Cameron shared his own testimony during a recent visit to the Salem/Crosswalk offices: "I was a pretty committed atheist most of my life. It wasn't until I was three years into Growing Pains that I became a Christian. A young girl invited me to go to church. I didn't want to go at first, but I wanted to hang out with the girl. Chuck Swindoll happened to be the pastor of this church - I heard a gospel message that really rocked my world.”

About a month later, through a process of asking “lots and lots of questions,“ Cameron says he came to the conclusion that although he was a celebrity and “had all this stuff going for me, if I died and found out there was a God, I would not be going to heaven.”

He wrestled through things and eventually came to the point of crying out to the Lord, “Please forgive me and show me what’s true.” Cameron says he then began following the Lord with all his heart, knowing that the most important thing he could do was to take the platform the Lord had given him and use it to save the lost and communicate the gospel effectively.

When the first Left Behind movie came out, Cameron saw a great opportunity. “It was very exciting to be a part of it. It did very well and people kept wanting to know when the second one and third one will be. They talked about what a wonderful opportunity it was for them to give a movie to their family and friends, because it contains at least enough of a biblical message that they could use it to raise questions: ‘What happens when you die?’ It gives us a springboard to talk to people about the gospel.

The Left Behind films are based on The New York Times #1 Best-Selling book of the same name. The series, which has sold more than 60 million copies worldwide, was written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, and follows the lives and struggles of those left behind on Earth after the rapture of the church as foretold in the Bible. Left Behind was named the "Best Selling Title of the Year by an Independent Studio" and the next film debuted on DVD second only to Spiderman.

Currently, churches and ministries all over the country are signing up to participate in this new, groundbreaking event.

"In the 70's and 80's, before the days of VHS, 16MM church film nights were one of the greatest ways that churches could introduce non-believers to their church," notes Cloud Ten's co-CEO Peter Lalonde. "We want to revive that outreach."

For Lalonde there is passion behind the vision. He first set foot in a gospel church in 1983 to watch The Prodigal. "It was a Thursday night and I was moved by the pastors' brief message after the film. I was back on Sunday...and the next Sunday. I became a believer the following Sunday and was a member of that church for eight years before relocating to another city."

Today Lalonde understands both the spiritual and business side of Cloud Ten Pictures and the Left Behind film franchise. Brother and co-CEO Paul adds, "Our goal is to provide churches, and other Christian venues, with a well-supported, turn-key event that allows them to both reach out to their community and raise funds for their local ministries instead of pouring it into theaters' coffers. Much like Mel did, we are going both within and outside the Hollywood system."

Instead of renting out or buying all the seats in a theater, participating congregations will play the film in their churches with a DVD. They will pay a nominal license fee, and then designate their 'box office take' from ticket sales to benefit whatever program they desire, whether it be for missions, expansion or youth activities.

Left Behind: World at War opens theatrically in churches the weekend of October 21-23. Churches may have as many screenings over than weekend as they wish. Then, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release the DVD on Tuesday, Oct. 25.

While the distribution strategy may be new, Cloud Ten Pictures has kept the cast of leading characters intact. Kirk Cameron and his wife Chelsea Noble, Brad Johnson, Janaya Stephens and Gordon Currie all return and are joined by Academy Award(tm) winner Lou Gossett, Jr., who plays U.S. President Gerald Fitzhugh opposite Currie's Nicolae Carpathia - self-appointed supreme ruler of the world.

"I've read a lot of scripts -- I've been doing this a long time -- and I have to pick and choose certain things," says Gossett. "I want to make an impression, spiritually, because that's where I've arrived at. Not much is going to get me to come to Canada in the winter but this is a story that HAS to be told."

"Signing on a respected, Oscar winning actor like Lou is a clear indicator of the new direction we seek to take with Christian film," says producer Andre van Heerden. "And collaborating with the creative team at Sony has provided a different level of expertise in everything from casting, the script, the visual effects and the overall 'feature film feel' this project will have. Yet, the core Gospel message remains squarely in place."

"Anybody who hears the word about the movie," says Cameron, "should talk to their pastor and ask to do it at their church. If they have a DVD player and a screen, they can do it. There is curriculum that can be downloaded from the website that pastors can give to their people for studies and outreaches to their community. Everything is there. We just need to get the word out."