Filming Has Begun on Movie About Adventist Medic in WWII
November 10, 2015: The production company has started filming Hacksaw Ridge, the dramatic movie about Desmond Doss, the Adventist who is the only American soldier to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor as conscientious objector. This was reported last week by Variety, the primary trade journal for the Hollywood cinema industry.
The report traced the history of the movie project since 2001, when noted produce David Permut first heard the story of Doss. “It stopped me in my tracks,” Permut is quoted. “The notion that he would not even touch a gun. He’s a forgotten hero. This is such a unique way into a war story; a man who stood by his convictions.”
Doss was a Seventh-day Adventist in the American state of Virginia who was drafted during the Second World War into the U.S. Army. He followed his religious convictions and Adventist teaching at the time, serving as an unarmed medic. Even if a war was just, he believed that killing was wrong. During the Battle of Okinawa near the end of the war, Doss saved 75 men from death, lowering them down a steep escarpment named Hacksaw Ridge by the soldiers.
Earlier in the story Doss is shown receiving ridicule for his Sabbath-keeping, Bible study and prayer from some of the men he later saved. An unknown number of young Adventists drafted during that war took a similar stand and quietly shared a witness for a nonviolent approach to life that has historically been part of Adventist faith but not required of members.
The Variety story outlines the 14 years of business negotiations that have gone into assembling a $53 million production budget for the movie and a partnership of eight producers. In addition to Permut, William D. Johnson of Demarest Media, Brian Oliver and Tyler Thompson of Cross Creek, Bill Mechanic of Pandemonium Films, Bruce Davey, Paul Currie, and Terry Benedict, the producer of the 2004 documentary The Conscientious Objector, will all share the production credits.
Originally the producers wanted a family movie that would be rated PG-13. More recently Mechanic told Variety, “I thought the story would be hurt if we went that way because it’s so intense.” Consequently the end product may not be something that can be shown at Adventist schools and youth groups, due to the violence displayed. The battle for the island of Okinawa is remembered as one of the bloodiest in the war.
The Adventist denomination was approached early on by a producer attempting to purchase the rights to the story, Variety reports based on the memory of Steve Longi from the production team. “But the church opted to give control over to Benedict, who was working on the documentary.” Mechanic later made a deal with Benedict. The report does not indicate that the denomination will receive any residuals from the movie or, in fact, was paid anything at all.
Well-known film star Mel Gibson is the director for the movie. He famously and controversially produced a movie about the crucifixion of Jesus. “Mel has never made a bad movie” as a director, Oliver is quoted in the report.
The financial package came together in February of this year at the annual Berlin film festival when Lionsgate (a major cinema distribution company) bought the U.S. rights and IM Global sold rights to distribute it in many different languages and nations around the world. On August 17, YouZoo Pictures completed a deal to distribute the movie in Chinese, Variety reported.
Despite the fact that the medium is one long condemned by Adventists, commercial cinema will carry the witness of an Adventist young adult in the 1940s to many millions of people around the globe. Pieces of the Adventist message are embedded in the story and will be heard by some for the first time. It will also create a massive number of conversation opportunities during which Adventists can share faith with neighbors, coworkers and relatives.
“Will the denomination do anything to prepare people specifically for this opportunity?” Adventist Today was asked by one veteran minister. “You do not have to go see the movie to talk about it or explain why we believe in nonviolence and the Sabbath.”