Chick Publications founder produces film meant to be a worldwide evangelical tool
By La Rue V. Baber
Many stories can be entertaining. But only a few can evoke strong enough emotions to change lives.
Such is the story of "The Light of the World," an 80-minute film without live action featuring 360 detailed paintings chronicling biblical events. Set to stirring original music with dramatic narration, "The Light of the World" is a labor of love for Jack Chick of Chick Publications, the Inland Valley company that produces a number of comic-strip gospel tracts distributed around the world.
When Chick, 79, who became a Christian in 1948 while honeymooning in Canada, began writing, producing and selling illustrated tracts in 1960 to tell Bible stories, it fueled his passion for reaching others. He founded Chick Publications and established it in Rancho Cucamonga in 1970. His fundamentalist gospel tracts grew in popularity in Christian circles and in the past three decades have been translated into more than 100 languages from Burmese to Zulu.
But he wanted to do more.
Fifteen years ago he had a vision to make a film that could reach millions. With the help of fellow artist Fred Carter of Pomona and Michael Helms, who founded the nonprofit Light of the World Project in Rancho Cucamonga to help fund the translation of the film into 1,000 languages, that vision is becoming a reality. The first public screening of the film will take place at Gardiner Springs Auditorium on Oct. 11.
"I would hope (the film) causes people to see the reality of what it was really like," Carter, 65, said. "Not see the fairy tale, but the truth."
After watching a compelling program about the Civil War produced by PBS that consisted mostly of still-life pictures and was narrated, Chick decided that was the way to go with "The Light of the World." Not only was it more cost effective, but with Carter's handiwork, much more vivid and dramatic.
"I was impressed with the visual impact of the film and the use of oral format," said Dan Kricorian, 80, a retired minister who pastored Calvary Church in Ontario for 24 years before founding the Dan Kricorian Ministries International. "I'm convinced it will be a powerful tool for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Some scenes, especially those of Jesus Christ's crucifixion, are graphic to the point of being gruesome. They show exactly how Jesus must have looked after being beaten, bloodied and broken, his beard plucked and his flesh hanging in ribbons from being whipped. There is even a medical explanation of what happened to him -- how pain seared through his body every time he breathed and how millions of cells died slowly -- as he hung on the cross.
It is this dramatic depiction that Chick and others hope will stir people's emotions and ignite their passion to spread the gospel.
"The entire film is intended to portray exactly what the Bible says, not to take artistic license to embellish and show things that aren't true," said Helms, a resident of Rancho Cucamonga. "I believe that this is the most graphic portrayal of the beating and crucifixion of Jesus to date."
While Chick sketched the foundation for each painting, Carter brought each to life with colored markers, acrylics and a touch of oil. Carter, who pastors a small community church just north of Victorville, completed about 95 percent of the paintings himself over 15 years, with the other 5 percent produced by artists Eric Hollander and Keith Goodson.
"There was one (painting) near the end that showed the Lord's eyes," Carter said when asked if any of the pieces made him emotional. "That one got to me the most."
For the original music, Chick contacted John Campbell of Upland, who has won several awards for music he's composed including an Emmy for the cartoon "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" Campbell, 42, also has written music for Focus on the Family's children's radio show, "Adventures in Odyssey," for the past 20 years.
Campbell said writing music for still-life paintings presented some challenges at first. He found himself stopping and staring at the pictures because they were so beautiful, he said. That was inspiration enough to write the music.
Campbell recommended his lifelong friend, David Jeremiah of Glendora, to do the narration. Jeremiah, who said he does voiceovers for about 50 commercials a week, was also the promo announcer for NBC's coverage of the Olympic Games last winter. He said he's able to do about 150 different voices.
In "The Light of the World," Jeremiah quotes many passages of scripture while telling the stories of creation, the fall of man, Moses and the Israelites' liberation from Egypt, the crucifixion and the promise of Christ's return.
"Jack (Chick) is a sweet guy," Jeremiah, 43, said. "I hope the film does exactly what Jack intended it to do."
The music and other sound effects such as crashing thunder and angry crowds make the film even more compelling.
"Everything was done first rate," said Helms, who is acting as spokesman on the film project for Chick. Helms said Chick prefers not to talk to the press or draw attention to himself.
Some stories of the Bible such as the great flood have been left out of the film because there are 25 supplemental illustrated tracts to go with it. These too, will be published in different languages and distributed worldwide with the film.
"In some countries, these tracts will be training material for new pastors," Helms said.
The Spanish version of "The Light of the World" will be completed by Nov. 15 and the Portuguese version by Dec. 1, Helms said.
Some people have expressed concerns that Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion," slated to open before Easter 2004, might steal the wind from "The Light of the World's" sails. But Helms said it's quite the contrary.
"Are you kidding? This is the greatest thing that could happen," Helms said. "This will only bring more publicity to "The Light of the World.' "
Helms said he is contacting several missionary organizations and various church denominations that would want to purchase the film on DVD or VHS, show it and send it to their missionaries. "The Light of the World" is intended to be an evangelical tool to tell the world about Jesus.
"This (film) is going to clearly define the greatness of God, the sinfulness of man and that the only solution to man's sinful nature is through the blood of Christ," Helms said.