Films on Religion

Lord, Save Us from Your Followers

Documentary 2008 PG-13 101 minutes. In the spirit of wondering why we all can’t just get along, filmmaker Dan Merchant takes to the streets to ask average folks about religious faith and why it seems to be such a divisive force in America’s so-called “culture wars.” The religious, strongly-Christian Merchant puts himself in a jumpsuit bedecked with Rightie and Leftie bumper stickers and crisscrosses America in search of answers as to what is truly causing the “culture war”, and why so many persons who claim to be “Christian” seem to work overtime spewing hatred and demonstrating a lack of understanding and charity. A quote from early in the film could serve as its thesis statement, “You call yourself “Christian,” but can you call yourself “Christ-like?” This is the ONLY film I know by Christians that challenges those who embrace the rhetoric of the religious right and conservative politics without thought of what Jesus would REALLY do. The film does a good job of pointing out how offensive we Christians can be in the way we represent the religion we claim to believe in. I say claim to believe in because if people can’t tell you’re a Christian by your behavior, then you’re probably doing it wrong. It should be a lifestyle, not just a belief system — the film does a great job of driving that point home. It isn’t preachy in your face it is just a “Hey, drop the judgment and love your neighbor”. I really think we all can benefit from the point of view this doc is trying to take. In addition to man-on-the-street perspectives, the thought-provoking (and refreshingly civil) conversation includes input from activists on both sides of the ideological spectrum. This should be enlightening, informative and spark discussion from persons on both sides of the political/ cultural/ religious debate, save for the extremists. I came close to turning it off in the first 15 minutes, but I’m glad I hung in there. I knew nothing about the film-maker before watching it, so I was pretty open-minded about what was coming. Many reviews paint Dan Merchant as a Christian Michael Moore, but I think a comparison to Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, 30 Days) is more apt. Like Spurlock, he uses animation and a bit of comedy to get his point across (including a very funny “Family Feud” parody that pits Liberal Elitists vs. Right Wingers); yet treats both sides with respect. Believers & Non-Believers Enjoy!


Documentary 2008 R 1hr 41m. Politically provocative talk show host Bill Maher skewers the current state of organized religion in this hot-button documentary, making stops in Jerusalem, the Vatican and other holy destinations. It is hard to call a film controversial when its maker is only asking people to discuss the reason for their religious faith, but this documentary was labeled controversial, nonetheless. Bill Maher, an agnostic comedian created this study of the motivations of people from various faiths. He doesn’t humiliate them or attack them for committing to a way of life that he doesn’t subscribe to. He just asks – “why do you believe?” But, Religulous is successful at showing how the most adamantly religious are often so stubbornly unwilling to entertain the idea that their faith might not be the one true faith. A few of the subjects allowed Maher to quiz them without becoming irritated, but the majority of them only agreed to the interview so that they can promote their God while insisting that all others are imposters. Maher is outspoken about how absurd he believes the concept of religion is, and he is very funny about it. The ultra-religious are outspoken about how they believe they are right and everyone else is wrong, and they are usually humorless. It is this contrast that makes Religulous so good. This film was much smarter, much funnier, and much better than I had expected, and that is impressive, because I had expected it to be good. It was great. Highly recommended. See Full Review

What Would Jesus Buy?

Documentary 2007 PG 91 minutes. Taking on rampant American consumerism with a focus on Christmas shopping, the Rev. Billy (Bill Talen) and the Church of Stop Shopping go on a cross-country journey to save citizens from the Shopocalypse in this hilarious documentary produced by Morgan Spurlock. Reminding shoppers of the true meaning of Christmas, Reverend Billy exorcises demons at Wal-Mart’s headquarters and preaches his message at the Mall of America and Disneyland.

The Revisionaries

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr23m. This documentary looks at a pitched cultural conflict over school textbook standards in Texas, as determined by the state’s Board of Education (BOE). Watch as people who think that humans and dinosaurs co-existed decide what is taught in our schools.  See Full Review

Judgment Day:
Intelligent Design on Trial

Documentary “Nova” series 2007 NR 112 minutes. With this episode, the popular “Nova” series examines the trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, a controversial legal battle sparked by a group of science teachers who refused to comply with an order to teach intelligent design (ID). See Full Review

Flock of Dodos
The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus

Documentary 2006 PG 1hr 25m. Evolutionary biologist Randy Olson explains the debate over intelligent design in this in-depth yet lighthearted documentary that examines how evolution is being taught in the United States. Featuring visits to school districts that have adopted the controversial theory, interviews with leading advocates for both camps, plus a flock of animated dodos, Olson’s film draws laughs even as it delves into this complex and emotionally charged issue.

Our Fathers

Docudrama 2005 R 129 minutes. This powerful and timely indictment of a church in crisis stars Christopher Plummer as Cardinal Bernard Law, the high-ranking Catholic priest at the center of a far-reaching web of sexual abuse and institutionalized cover-up. Based on Newsweek journalist David France’s best-seller about the real-life scandal that rocked Boston, this Emmy-nominated drama co-stars Ted Danson, Brian Dennehy and Ellen Burstyn.  See Full Review

Mea Maxima Culpa:
Silence in the House of God

Documentary 2012 NR 107 minutes. Filmmaker Alex Gibney explores the crime of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, highlighting the landmark story of five deaf men who spoke out about a priest who molested more than 200 children between 1950 and 1974. Investigative piece about a particular catholic school for the deaf in Wisconsin that ties into the larger scandal at the Vatican itself. Father Murphy of Milwaukee allegedly raped and abused more than 200 children over a 24 year period. See Full Review

The Silence

Documentary Frontline 2011 Apr19. Tom Curran and reporter Mark Trahant examine a little-known chapter of the Catholic Church sex abuse story: decades of abuse of Native Americans by priests and church workers in Alaska. The Silence shows how the isolation of the villages and the absolute authority of the church over the Native population created an atmosphere where molestation could go unchecked and unreported. As part of the recent church settlement with the victims, the bishop of Fairbanks returns to all of the villages where the abuse occurred and apologizes to the victims in person. Frontline is there when the bishop comes face-to-face with the reality of the abuse that the church denied for years. The Silence is a co-presentation with Native American Public Telecommunications (NATP). Link to View This Frontline Story for Free (Listed by Date 2011 Apr19):

Deliver Us from Evil  (2006)

Documentary 2006 NR 103 minutes. This unsettling Oscar-nominated documentary from filmmaker Amy Berg investigates the life of 30-year pedophile Father Oliver O’Grady and exposes the corruption inside the Catholic Church that allowed him to abuse countless children. Victims’ stories and a disturbing interview with O’Grady offer a view into the troubled mind of the spiritual leader who moved from parish to parish gaining trust … all the while betraying so many.

The Boys of St. Vincent

Docudrama 1992 NR.  In this award-winning television drama, a group of men revisit the Catholic boys’ orphanage in Newfoundland where they were forced to endure numerous acts of sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of their priests. Based on a the true story, the film features fictionalized flashbacks of the men’s experiences from 15 years earlier; they later banded together to bring charges against their former clerics.

Doubt  (2008)

Drama 2008 PG-13 104 minutes. Sister Aloysius begins to have doubts about doting priest Father Flynn, who seems to have become overly involved in the life of a young African American pupil. Is she overreacting to the situation, or is there truth behind her convictions? Meryl Streep rules in this religious drama that explores the tensions in Roman Catholicism during the 1960s. The repression, the joy, the innocence, and the secrets of that era are all illuminated. Having attended Catholic schools, it was a treat for me to hear the private dialogue among nuns and priests. Conversations like these no doubt really happened. Here we see two different cultures: the nuns more modest and strict, the priests indulging in drink, smoking and raucous laughter. Incredible acting (Streep as Sister Aloysius; Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn; Amy Adams as Sister James and Viola Davis as Mrs. Miller — all Golden Globe nominees). The scene between Davis (whose son is fond of Hoffman) and Streep was a high point in this film. Streep is a harsh guardian of morality, hardly able to crack a smile, yet fiercely protective of the children in her care. This film is thought provoking as it explores repression, freedom, puritanism, modernity, hierarchy, equality, male, female, sexuality and celibacy. Doubt ends in a moral grey area. To what lengths should religious go to prevent even the appearance of child abuse? Sure to spark plenty of debate.

Son of God

Docudrama 2014 PG-13. A follow-up to the landmark 2013 miniseries The Bible, this feature follows the life of Jesus Christ from his humble birth to his resurrection. Filmed in authentic historical locales, this epic presentation brings new life to the miraculous story.

The Bible

Docudrama Miniseries 2013 NR Blu-ray and DVD. Re-creating the Bible’s vision of human and divine history for contemporary audiences, this sweeping miniseries incorporates key biblical stories and parables, vividly dramatizing the ancient tales — from Adam and Eve to the revelation of St. John.


Docudrama 2013 R 1hr 29m. Based on a short story by David Sedaris of the same name in his book Naked. C.O.G. stands for Child Of God, which is seen on a religious pamphlet handed to the author in Oregon. This comedy follows the young author as he travels to Oregon to work on an apple farm. The journey exposes him to all sorts of culture clashes, but what awaits him at the farm is far worse. About a character who cuts himself off from the safety net of family and friends in order to experience something different. Accurately portrays the kind of nonsensical misadventure a young person in search of new experiences might have. Consequently, when things go badly, he has to depend on the kindness of strangers, and he repeatedly learns that not all strangers are kind. This is film and a story about the difficulty of making connections. The Sedaris character is sympathetic, and that makes him interesting to watch as he navigates dilemmas as to his sexuality, his faith and the co-opting of organized religion, and just simply getting by. I thought the characters were totally believable, in part because of the superb acting, in part the great directing. When the movie ended, I was wishing that it could have kept going. This is one of the most fascinating movies that I have seen in quite a while.

The Unbelievers

Documentary 2013 NR 1hr16m. Scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss travel the globe promoting a scientific worldview and the rational questioning of religious belief.  It is a long travelogue of Dawkins and Krauss with a few one-liners at speaking gigs. There are way too many transitional shots of Professors Krauss and Dawkins traveling. This movie has a time lapse of Richard Dawkins sitting on a train in front of his computer reading and then falling asleep. I don’t know if a speaking tour can make a good documentary, but this one definitely didn’t. It’s one thing to set the scene, but I would rather have heard more excerpts from their appearances. It felt like something that could have been ten or fifteen minutes long instead of an hour and a quarter and still imparted the same information, since its more of a travelogue with the two men in different places saying essentially the same things. Good things, indeed, but since it never stays in any one place very long we only hear the very same or similar basic snippets over and over. So it’s a short film that wastes a lot of time about their travels rather than actually making an in-depth doc about the subject. If you’ve read any of their books or articles, or seen any of their talks, you’ve heard it all in greater detail, with more context, and better presentation.   The film does have cameos from the Who’s Who in the atheist movement. I think that will satisfy “the choir” by whom the film will be most appreciated. I’d love to sit with some religious friends and watch their reactions to it. As far as I’m concerned, nobody said anything I would consider controversial. But, based on my own experiences, even statements of fact in the presence of believers are taken as grave offenses (eg, that the Bible contains hundreds of errors and contradictions, which is indisputable — by rational people). The best part were the interviews at the end with actors and comedians on the subject.

Blue Like Jazz

Drama 2012 PG-13 1hr 47m. Life in a devout family has given Don a unique view of religious hypocrisy, so when choosing a college, he picks “the most godless campus in America.”

Beware of Christians

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 33m. This documentary follows four Christian college students from the United States who travel to Europe to explore what it really means to follow Jesus.

Sarah Palin: You Betcha!

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr  31m. Filmmaker Nick Broomfield tracks down friends, relatives and colleagues of polarizing Alaska politician Sarah Palin in this irreverent documentary. Among those interviewed are Palin’s father, fundamentalist supporters, and plenty of folks with axes to grind. See Full Review

The Last Journey of Óscar Romero

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 27m. Using rare footage from his own collection as well as interviews and photographs, this documentary profiles Óscar Romero, the Salvadoran priest whose championing of the poor and downtrodden against a corrupt government made him a global hero.

Nazi Hunters

Docudrama series 2010 NR 1 Season. Chronicling eight missions, this documentary series traces how determined agents captured some of the most evil criminals the world has ever known. I am so appreciative of people like Wiesenthal & the Klarsfelds. Nazi Hunters are inspiring heroes. I think their stories are important, because it shows what individuals can do, against all odds. Also a frightening look at how racist and antisemitic the Catholic Church really is. Their aiding and abetting Nazi mass murders defies every holy cannon they pretend to represent. It is a sobering hypocrisy. If you like these kind of justice films this is a series worth watching, offering several educational facts that are not widely known.

Who Was Jesus?

Documentary 2009 TV-PG 3 Episodes. Experts from various fields join forces to demystify Jesus Christ’s life, looking to science, archaeology and history to paint a detailed portrait.

Oh My God

Documentary 2009 NR 98 minutes. Traveling across 23 countries, filmmaker Peter Rodger asks one question: What is God? With both predictable and surprising answers, faith leaders, fanatics, children, everyday and famous people alike share their personal truths. From the ethereal to the tangible, the positive to the negative, the answers reflect experiences, family influences, cultures and, ultimately, imperfections. Hugh Jackman, Seal and other celebrities make appearances.

One Nation Under God

Documentary 2009 NR 1hr 31m. Four college-aged Christians hit the road on a hilarious, thought-provoking journey and question everything in order to live for something.

Waiting for Armageddon

Documentary 2009 NR 74 minutes. In this eye-opening, equitable documentary, filmmakers Kate Davis, David Heilbroner and Franco Sacchi explore the lives of evangelical Christians who believe that Armageddon is imminent and that Israel will be the site of Christ’s second coming. The film follows evangelicals as they prepare for the apocalypse and examines how their beliefs have influenced the U.S. government’s relationships with Israel and the Muslim world.

Selling God

Documentary 2009 NR 1hr 26m. This documentary combines black comedy and serious historical research to examine how the marketing of fundamentalist Christianity has evolved over the years, including televangelism, megachurches and the post-Sept. 11 battle for moral superiority.

The Invention of Lying

Satire 2009 PG-13 99 minutes. “The Invention of Lying” is a satire that depicts a world where no one fibs, fiction doesn’t exist and people take each other at their literal word, but unsuccessful screenwriter Mark gains fame and fortune — and maybe the girl of his dreams, Anna — by saying things that aren’t true. The Invention of Lying is a remarkably radical comedy, a comedy with ideas; fortunately it remains, throughout, a comedy first. The first half hour has some of the funniest original writing and scenes ever in a comedy, in which people actually say what they think about each other. It opens with a series of funny, relentlessly logical episodes in a world where everyone always tells the truth. But one day Mark (Ricky Gervais) undergoes an astonishing revelation. He knows his bank balance is $300. The camera zooms into his brain to show mental lightning bolts, and he tells the teller he has $800 (which he needs to pay the rent). She hands him the money and apologizes for the bank’s computer. He has discovered he can lie, but his world lacks even a word for this. Then when Mark wants to console his mother who is dying, he makes up a story about “The Man In The Sky”, and gets millions of people to believe in him. So the film slips in the implication that religion is possible only in a world that has the ability to lie. Not only is it inventive and imaginative and original, but it truly inspires the viewer to think! You start to wonder, “Is this how religion was invented?” Something to think about. With his new power Mark is able to tell his mother that death does not lead to oblivion, but to a wonderful afterlife. Of course she, and everyone else, believes him. The word races around the world, and people beg for more details. Anna tells him how happy he could make everyone. Then, in one of the funniest satirical scenes I can remember, Mark stands on his front steps and informs the world there is a Man in the Sky, and they will be happy up there with him after death. The world is ecstatic. This Man, Mark explains, is responsible for everything. “Even my cancer?” a woman asks. Yes, that too, but Mark asks his audience not to get bogged down in the details. What we have here, in microcosm, is the paradox of a benevolent god creating a world of evil. Mark is hard-pressed to explain it, but greater men than he have tried. That’s a definite extra in a light romantic comedy. As someone once said, “Religion is Santa Clause for adults.” So unlike many liars we know who lie for their own benefit, Mark uses his power to fib only to make unfortunate people feel better, by telling only what we call “white lies”. So the movie could more accurately be titled “The Invention of White-Lying”. See Full Review

Constantine’s Sword

Documentary 2007 NR 1hr 35 m. This documentary examines the history of anti-Semitism in the Catholic Church and the link between the U.S. military and the Christian right. From Constantine’s reign in the fourth century to today’s evangelical base at the Air Force Academy.

For the Bible Tells Me So

Documentary 2007 NR 95 minutes.  Director Daniel G. Karslake goes to the Bible to examine the ways in which conservative Christian groups have used — and sometrimes exploited — scripture to deny human rights to gays and lesbians around the world.

Hand of God

Documentary Frontline 2007. Filmmaker Joe Cultrera provides a compelling inside look at the effect of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest on one family — his own — in this significant documentary. In the 1960s, Father Joseph Birmingham molested Cultrera’s brother, Paul; the family discusses the impact of this dark secret and how they survived betrayal by the church they trusted and by Birmingham, who is alleged to have molested almost 100 children. In recent decades, more than 10,000 children reportedly were sexually abused by Catholic priests in the United States. From behind the headlines, filmmaker Joe Cultrera tells the very personal story of how the crisis affected his own family in Salem, Mass. It is the intimate story of how his brother, Paul, was molested in the 1960s by Father Joseph Birmingham, who also reportedly abused nearly 100 other children. Paul Cultrera would keep his secret for 30 years until he decided to finally confront the church and launched his own investigation into how the Archdiocese of Boston had covered up allegations against Father Birmingham and moved the priest from parish to parish, placing more and more children in danger. In a sometimes raw and emotional film, the Cultrera family tells their story of faith betrayed by the scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church. Link to View This Frontline Story for Free (Listed by Date 2007):

Jesus Camp

Documentary 2006 PG-13 84 minutes. This riveting Oscar-nominated documentary offers an unfiltered look at a revivalist subculture in which devout Christian youngsters are being primed to deliver the fundamentalist community’s religious and political messages. Building an evangelical army of tomorrow, the Kids on Fire summer camp in Devil’s Lake, N.D., is dedicated to deepening the preteens’ spirituality and sowing the seeds of political activism.

Deliver Us from Evil

Documentary 2006 NR 103 minutes. This unsettling Oscar-nominated documentary from filmmaker Amy Berg investigates the life of 30-year pedophile Father Oliver O’Grady and exposes the corruption inside the Catholic Church that allowed him to abuse countless children. Victims’ stories and a disturbing interview with O’Grady offer a view into the troubled mind of the spiritual leader who moved from parish to parish gaining trust … all the while betraying so many.

The Mormons

Documentary 2006 TV-PG 240 minutes. Documentarian Helen Whitney directs this fascinating PBS presentation exploring the history and influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the fastest-growing religions in the United States whose reach extends worldwide. Touching on all aspects of this complex and sometimes controversial religion, Whitney gains access to Mormon archives and captures candid interviews with church supporters, opponents and historians.

The Amish

Documentary American Experience 2012. An intimate portrait of contemporary Amish faith and life, this film examines how such a closed and communal culture has thrived within one of the most open, individualistic societies on earth. What does the future hold for a community whose existence is so rooted in the past? And what does our fascination with the Amish say about deep American values? View This American Experience Story for Free at the following internet addresses:

The Amish: Shunned

Documentary American Experience 2013 NR. This documentary follows seven former members of the Amish community as they reflect on their decisions to leave one of the most closed and tightly knit communities in the United States. Following up on an earlier, more general PBS film about the Amish, the writer and director Callie T. Wiser profiles seven people — young and old, male and female — who have left the community. Not all have stayed away: One man says he went back seven times before making what appears to be his final break, and one woman returns, to heartbreaking effect, during the shooting of the film. But the emphasis is overwhelmingly on the feelings and experiences that come after shunning — melancholy, doubt, halting or failed attempts to reconcile with family members who stayed behind.

The Buddha
The Story of Siddhartha

Documentary 2010 NR 120 minutes. Through a tapestry of paintings and sculptures, this documentary explores the life of the Buddha, his quest for serenity and his enlightenment. Insightful interviews shed light on Buddhism and its relevance today.

The God Who Wasn’t There

Documentary 2005 NR 1hr. Borrowing the lively approach of documentaries such as Fahrenheit 9/11 and Super Size Me, ex-Christian fundamentalist Brian Flemming’s exposé shines an unflinching spotlight on Christianity and the existence of Christ. Flemming interviews religious experts and Christians of varying backgrounds, ultimately asserting that Jesus Christ is more than likely a fictional character based on legend and that Christian doctrine is rife with contradiction.

10 Questions for the Dalai Lama

Documentary 2006 NR 85 minutes. This fascinating documentary blends an interview with the Dalai Lama with a look back at the spiritual leader’s history and an exploration of the small city of Dharamsala, India, where he was exiled some 50 years ago.

Dalai Lama
The Soul of Tibet

Documentary 2005 NR 60 minutes. Exiled from his Tibetan homeland since 1959, the Dalai Lama remains a tireless humanitarian and the spiritual and secular leader of Buddhism. This documentary chronicles the story of the man believed by his people to be Buddha’s reincarnation. Featuring interviews with His Holiness, activists and Chinese scholars, this A&E; “Biography” installment includes footage of some of his key life events, including his 1989 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

Ethics and the World Crisis
A Dialogue with the Dalai Lama

Documentary 2004 NR 68 minutes. This unique discussion features the Dalai Lama as the guest speaker at an event filled with respected journalists, environmentalists, economists and politicians, as they tackle issues such as the many ethical trials we all face in this new day and age. Also included is information about the Tibet House and appearances by Dr. Helen Caldicott, Amy Goodman, Dennis Kucinich, Susan Sarandon, Rev. Al Sharpton, Russell Simmons, Robert Thurman and more.

The Passion of the Christ

Docudrama 2004 R 2hr 6m. Oscar-winning actor-director Mel Gibson helms this controversial epic that focuses on the last 12 hours of Jesus’s life — from the betrayal, trial and death of Jesus to his brutal crucifixion and resurrection from the tomb. Starring Jim Caviezel as Jesus, Maia Morgenstern as Jesus’s mother and Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene, The Passion is spoken entirely in Latin and Aramaic, and the violent Crucifixion scenes are incredibly graphic.

The Jesus Factor

Documentary Frontline 2004. As an evangelical Christian, President Bush has something in common with the 46 percent of Americans who describe themselves as being “born again” or having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Often has the president recounted praying about major decisions facing the nation–but what do we actually know about the rudiments of George Bush’s faith? To what extent do the president’s spiritual beliefs impact or influence his political decision-making? And how closely do Bush’s religious views mirror those of the country’s burgeoning–and politically influential–evangelical movement? Link to View This Frontline Story for Free (Listed by Date 2004):

Bruce Almighty

Humor Sci-Fi 2003 PG-13 102 minutes. Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) toils as a “human interest” television reporter in Buffalo, N.Y. Despite his high ratings and the love of his beautiful girlfriend, Grace (Jennifer Aniston), Bruce remains unfulfilled. At the end of the worst day in his life, he angrily ridicules God — and the Almighty (Morgan Freeman) responds, endowing Bruce with all of His divine powers. Question is, can Bruce improve on perfection?

The Statement

Thriller Docudrama 2003 R 120 minutes.  During World War II, Frenchman Pierre Brossard’s Nazi sympathizing led to the deaths of 14 Jews. Years later, it’s his turn to be the prey when a Nazi hunter, the police, and hired killers pick up his trail.  This is a very interesting movie, loosely based on a true story.  Michael Caine gives another brilliant performance. His character is a fascinating one of a pious man, devout Catholic, and cold-blooded Nazi war criminal. Caine downplays his considerable charm and natural humor, instead giving us a vivid portrait of a conflicted and disturbed man. As a thoroughly contemptible hypocrite, Caine flees both justice for the killing of seven Jews, and a mysterious conspiracy of assassins chasing him. Half of Caine’s character is that of a pious, even pathetic old man, facing persecution and striving to stay in a state of grace with the Catholic Church. In a flash, the other half is revealed as an arrogant, homicidal schemer.  Only Caine could have knitted the two together in such a fascinating way.  This is a well-crafted suspenseful thriller.  It is also is a good history lesson.  It doesn’t spare the Vichy government of France, nor the Catholic Church.  I highly recommend.


Documentary Frontline 2002. The events of Sept. 11 left many Americans questioning how such atrocities could be perpetrated in the name of religion: specifically, the religion of Islam. Few Americans know much about Islam, yet it continues to be the fastest growing religion in the US today. What is Islam? What do Muslims believe in? And how does their faith shape their lives, identities and their political ideologies? Frontline explores these and other questions in “Muslims,” a special two-hour report that examines the fundamental tenets of Islam and the causes behind its current worldwide resurgence.Through interviews with dozens of ordinary Muslims from such diverse countries as Iran, Malaysia, Turkey, and the U.S., Frontline illuminates the perspectives, conflicts, and tensions that are shaping today’s Muslim world. Link to View This Frontline Story for Free (Listed by Date 2002):

The Magdalene Sisters

Docudrama 2002 R 120 minutes. While women’s liberation sweeps the globe, in 1960s Ireland four “fallen” women are stripped of their liberty and dignity and condemned to indefinite servitude in the Magdalene Laundries, where they’ll work to atone for their “sins.” The Magdalene Sisters” tells the story of four young women’s experiences from 1964-1969 in Ireland’s Magdalene Asylums where Catholic girls accused of “moral crimes” (anything from getting pregnant, to being too attractive, to accusing a man of rape) were sent to work in laundries to make amends for their sins. The girls were subjected to all manner of abuse and some spent their entire lives behind the asylum’s walls forced to do labor under sweat-shop conditions. Finally these virtual prisons closed their doors in 1996, but not without a condemnation of the facilities and the nuns and priests who ran them. Be sure to view the DVD special feature which includes interviews of actual women who were confined to a Magdalene Asylum in a narrative entitled “Sex In A Cold Climate.” This is a powerful film with amazing performances about an unrelentingly bleak topic. As a man, I am well accustomed to seeing movies about the awful ways men have (and still do) treat women. What is shocking about The Magdalene Sisters is that it shows abuse is not about sex. Rather, it is about power and who wields it, regardless of their gender. This brilliantly crafted film depicts the cruelties inflicted on some 30,000 women in Ireland who were imprisoned into forced servitude in the Magdalene laundries of the Catholic Church. The common sins used as the pretexts of this self-righteous abuse (and exploitation) of these unfortunate women were those of their own loving acts – not violence. This film also depicts men in a sad, cowardly, subordinate role to this female-driven evil, which further reinforces the simple concept that power is about control – not gender. For these reasons, this film is a must-see for teenage boys and girls and they should see it together, and with their families.

Hell House

Documentary 2001 NR 1hr 25m. This documentary goes behind the scenes of the Hell House, a multimedia fire-and-brimstone performance designed to give its audiences a glimpse of what awaits those who stray from the path of a strict Christian life. Put on by the youth members of a church outside Dallas, the show draws thousands of visitors each year. The filmmakers follow the rigorous creative process behind the show and paint intimate portraits of many of its key players

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Documentary 2000 PG-13 80 minutes. Tammy Faye Bakker’s journey from traveling evangelist to weepy, scandal-scarred cult icon is chronicled in this tongue-in-cheek documentary from Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato that’s narrated by RuPaul. The film was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and details Jimmy Bakker’s infamous affair — which, in essence, ended the PTL Ministry — as well as Tammy’s emergence as a hero to alternative-lifestyle communities.

In the Beginning

Docudrama 2000 NR 169 minutes. Covering a time span from the beginning of creation to the handing down of the Ten Commandments, this two-part television miniseries dramatizes the Bible’s first two books, Genesis and Exodus. Part One features the stories of Abraham (Martin Landau), Joseph (Eddie Cibrian), Rebeccah (Diana Rigg) and Isaac (Sean Pertwee). Part Two centers on Moses (Bill Campbell) and how he freed his people from the chains of slavery.

The Jesus Film  (Jesus)

Docudrama 1979 G 120 minutes. Touted as the most historically accurate depiction of the life of Jesus, this film, shot in the Holy Land, has been translated into more than 800 languages and has been seen by more than 4.7 billion people in 236 nations. The screenplay comes directly from the Gospel of Luke — virtually every word spoken by Jesus was drawn from the biblical text. Extensive research also went into the production’s design to achieve historical authenticity.

From Jesus to Christ
The First Christians

Documentary Frontline 1998. Frontline presents the epic story of the rise of Christianity. Drawing upon new and sometimes controversial historical evidence, the series transports the viewer back two thousand years to the time and place where Jesus of Nazareth once lived and preached and challenges familiar assumptions and conventional notions about the origins of Christianity. Program 1 traces the life of Jesus of Nazareth, exploring the message that helped his ministry grow and the events that led to his crucifixion around 30 c.e. The film then turns to the period that followed Jesus’ death, examining the rise of Christianity and concluding with the First Revolt — the bloody and violent siege of Jerusalem and the beginning of a rift between Christianity and Judaism. The broadcast explores new evidence suggesting that Jesus’ followers because of their diversity and the differences in their cultures and languages, looked at and interpreted Jesus and his teachings in many different ways. In program 2, Frontline examines the period after the First Revolt, tracing the development and impact of the Gospels and looking at the increasingly hostile relationship between the Christians and the Jews. The film looks at another bloody Jewish war against Rome, the second Revolt, assessing its impact on the Christianity movement. The broadcast documents the extraordinary events of the second and third centuries in which Christianity grew from a small Jewish sect to an official religion of the Roman Empire. Link to View This Frontline Story for Free (Listed by Date 1998):

The Apostle

Drama 1997 PG-13 134 minutes. When charismatic but troubled Pentecostal preacher Euliss “Sonny” Dewey (Robert Duvall) discovers that his wife (Farrah Fawcett) is having an affair, he promptly puts the other man in a coma and flees his home state of Texas for Louisiana. Once there, he takes on a new name, renovates an old church and brings new life to a congregation. Written and directed by Duvall, the film also earned an Oscar nod for Duvall’s complex, captivating performance.

The Bible Collection

Docudrama 1994-1997 TNT’s “greatest stories of the Bible” series NR.

A Fool and His Money

Satire 1989 R 84 minutes. Convinced he’s getting instructions straight from the “Man Upstairs,” former advertising executive Morris Codman (Jonathan Penner) establishes a religion of his own, one that buys into his own precepts: greed, selfishness and looking out for Number 1. But will the love of a good woman (Sandra Bullock) shake his strange faith? Jonathan Penner, Gerald Orange, George Plimpton and Daniel Adams co-star.

Praise the Lord

Documentary Frontline 1988. Frontline traces the rise and fall of television evangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker and investigates why government agencies failed to vigorously investigate charges of corruption in the Bakker empire.

Keeping the Faith

Documentary Frontline 1987. The black church was once the soul of its community. It was a rallying point and a force for change. Now, as the black middle class grows and the church evolves, correspondent Roger Wilkins asks whom does it serve and to what end?

The Mission (1986)

Drama 1986. The film is set in the 1750s and involves Spanish Jesuit priest Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) who enters the South American jungle to build a mission and convert a Guaraní community to Christianity. The Guaraní community above the perilous Iguazu Fallshas tied a priest to a cross and sent him down the falls to his death. Father Gabriel travels to the falls and plays his oboe. The Guaraní warriors, captivated by the music, allow him to live.

Catholics in America
Is Nothing Sacred?

Documentary Frontline 1985. One in four American citizens is Catholic, yet few seem to agree with-or follow-every doctrine and practice of their church. Frontline examines the conflicts within the American Catholic Church and its ongoing struggle with the Vatican.

Give Me That Big Time Religion

Documentary Frontline 1984. Television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart’s weekly ministry was seen by over two million people in big cities and small towns across the U.S. and Canada. But of the tens of millions of dollars he raised through his appeals, only a tiny portion actually went into charity work. Several years before his fall, Frontline investigated whether the money these modern revivalists raise goes to do God’s work or to keep the preachers on TV. Should the government regulate religious fundraising?

The Scarlet and the Black  (1983)

Docudrama 1983 NR 156 mins.  This riveting drama is based on the true-life story of Vatican priest Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty (Gregory Peck), who helped allied P.O.W.s escape from Nazi-occupied Rome. O’Flaherty challenged Nazi officers and his Vatican superiors to save the lives of Jews during World War II. With German soldiers controlling Rome, O’Flaherty made a determined effort to hide and shuttle to safety as many Jews from the city as possible.

The Life and Death of Peoples Temple

Documentary American Experience 2006 NR 86 minutes. How could one man — Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones — persuade 900 people to commit mass suicide by drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid in the jungles of Guyana? This penetrating portrait of the demented preacher attempts to answer that question. Using never-before-seen footage and audio accounts of two Jonestown survivors, documentarian Stanley Nelson paints a chilling picture of a social experiment gone horribly awry. The documentary starts with an overview of Jones as a child through adult hood and then takes you step by step from the beginning to the tragic end of the religious cult he started and lead. It profiles the lives of many followers and victims to help viewers try to understand why these people followed Jones. It is full of interviews and narrations from the few that survived the actual day of mass suicide/murder. It offers many surprising factors such as the political connections and power that Jones possessed. I found it educational as it demonstrated how easily something like this can happen.

Guyana Tragedy
The Story of Jim Jones

Docudrama (1980) 192 min. The story of the People’s Temple religious cult led by Jim Jones(played by Powers Boothe) and the events involving its move to Guyana and its eventual mass suicide.

Crime of the Century

Docudrama 1979 R 115 minutes. Witness one of the greatest tragedies of the latter half of the 20th century — the mass suicide in Guyana by the cultish followers of charismatic preacher Rev. Jim Jones (played by Stuart Whitman). Afraid that the CIA was closing in, Jones and his religious congregation moved to Guyana, where, under Jones’s thrall orgies, torture and violence became rampant throughout the community.

The Jesus Film  (Jesus)

Docudrama 1979 G 120 minutes. Touted as the most historically accurate depiction of the life of Jesus, this film, shot in the Holy Land, has been translated into more than 800 languages and has been seen by more than 4.7 billion people in 236 nations. The screenplay comes directly from the Gospel of Luke — virtually every word spoken by Jesus was drawn from the biblical text. Extensive research also went into the production’s design to achieve historical authenticity.

Jesus of Nazareth

Docudrama series 1977 NR 1 Season. Featuring an impressive international cast, this well-received TV miniseries respectfully and sensitively documents the life of Jesus Christ. “Jesus of Nazareth” is a superior re-telling of the story of Jesus Christ with a wonderful cast, high production values, and limited changes to the Gospel narratives. However, this version has been cut by about a third with many scenes that were a part of the story missing.


Documentary 1972 PG 88 mins.  This Oscar-winning documentary explores the life of one-time child evangelist and faith healer Marjoe Gortner. The son of professional evangelists, Gortner was preaching on the Southern tent-revival circuit by the age of 3. Twenty-eight at the time of the film’s release, Gortner freely admits to being a scam artist — but still maintains a compelling charisma, possibly explaining his later career as an actor in B movies and in 1974’s Earthquake.


Documentary 1968 NR 90 minutes. Before delivering Gimme Shelter, cinema verité filmmakers Charlotte Zwerin and brothers Albert and David Maysles hatched this culturally significant documentary examining the utterly American profession of the traveling salesman. The film follows four reps of the Mid-American Bible Company as they peddle gold-embossed versions of “the Word” to families with little interest in fancy scriptures, providing a searing portrait of life on the road.


Docudrama 1966 NR.  Domineering minister Abner Hale (Max Von Sydow) moves to Hawaii with his wife, Jerusha Bromley Hale (Julie Andrews), and assumes that the islanders will simply modify their way of life to suit him. His portrayal as the Calvinist missionary-preacher is right-on and depicts the missionaries’ attitudes and views very well. Andrews plays his dutiful wife Jerusha, who is exactly the opposite in welcoming the people of Hawaii and attempting to learn all about their culture. Discontent with her life, she eventually finds solace in the company of a former love, Rafer Hoxworth (Richard Harris).  A very credible attempt at epic making by director George Roy Hill. A very well cast film. The natives in the film are quite good and this is where Hill’s expertise shines in directing non-actors. The main character, Malama, is based on the real Queen Kaahumanu, and the actress does an excellent job — you could really see what Kaahumanu was like. An amazing film for its time — showing things usually taboo in film such as religious intolerance, incest, bigotry, domination over another civilization, and partial nudity (which by the way was very tame, brief, and tasteful, but extremely rare in mainstream American cinema then.)  Probably why I should now read the book by James Michener!  (There is a short, 161-minute version of the film, and a full version, which is about 189 minutes and is much better. It is sometimes on Turner Classic Movies, so look for the long version instead.)

Inherit the Wind

Docudrama 1960 NR 128 minutes. Spencer Tracy (in an Oscar-nominated role) and Fredric March square off as opposing attorneys Henry Drummond and Matthew Harrison Brady, respectively, in this blistering courtroom drama about the famed 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial,” in which a Tennessee teacher was taken to task for teaching Darwinism in the classroom. The film also earned Oscar nods for its editing, screenplay and cinematography. Gene Kelly co-stars as a newspaper reporter.

Elmer Gantry

Drama 1960 NR 147 minutes. Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster nabbed a Best Actor Oscar as glad-handing, soul-redeeming charlatan Elmer Gantry, a huckster who spins his talent for preaching into a métier behind the pulpit. Hopping aboard the barnstorming evangelical crusade of Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons), Gantry moralizes his way to fame and fortune till an erstwhile ladylove (Shirley Jones) threatens to expose his shady history as a skirt-chaser and scam artist.


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