Thursday, January 19, 2006

End of the Spear

In January 1956, the death of five missionaries at the hands of the Waodani tribe of Ecuador was big news around the world; 50 years later End of the Spear, opening Jan. 20 in 1,200 theaters nationwide, recaptures that agony and the astounding change that followed as the power of forgiveness became evident.

But this first dramatic product of a new movie company is also one more example of how Christians are adding to American culture rather than merely trying to subtract harmful elements of it.

Mart Green, an Oklahoma City businessman whose family owns the Hobby Lobby craft chain and the Mardel Christian bookstore chain, founded the new company, Every Tribe Entertainment, in 1998. He told WORLD, "I was raised never to go to movies," and at age 35 "had never been in a theater." But he saw the effect of media on his children and also witnessed the commitment of Bible translators in Guatemala. During conversations at a meeting of the North American Forum of Bible Agencies, the account of the five slain missionaries and the aftermath kept coming up.

Mr. Green brought on board director Jim Hanon, who had made commercials for his company, and producer Bill Ewing, a Christian with 43 years of experience in the Hollywood film industry. Together they formed Every Tribe Entertainment with the goal of making a movie that would focus not on the martyrdom of the missionaries but on the Waodani (known to neighboring tribes as "Auca," meaning "savage") and how they changed. "We went down to Ecuador, flew out to the bush, backpacked out, and asked the permission from the Waodani," Mr. Green said.

At first the tribal elders were unwilling. Then the conversation turned to the then-recent Columbine school shooting. "We know the anger and hate that go with that," the elders said. "If our story can help North America, fine."

Mr. Hanon recalls, "We lived with the Waodani for 17 days. . . . We bathed in their river and ate monkey and ate in their huts. The simplicity of their faith and their lifestyle was such an interesting and unique thing for us." The first project was Beyond the Gates of Splendor, a documentary released last year. Then came the feature film, End of the Spear, filmed in the jungles of Panama. Professional actors portrayed four of the Indian roles, but the rest were members of an indigenous tribe, the Embera.

Although the Embera had never seen a movie before and didn't know how to act, Mr. Hanon said "they were able to understand what their character was feeling and portray it. It made it not about what was said but about the delivery, the intent, the emotion." Much of the film is in the Embera language: "Doing it in their language also created a great relationship with them. Usually they had to learn the other language."

Despite or because of the difficulties, the result is exquisite. With the cameras capturing the lush beauty of the rain forest, End of the Spear (rated PG-13 for violence) evokes two different worlds that first clash and then are reconciled, and tells the story from two alternating points of view. We get the perspective of Mincayani (based on the real-life Micaye), first shown as a child whose parents are killed in a tribal vendetta and then as the warrior who kills Nate Saint. We also see the point of view of Steve Saint, first as a 5-year-old boy in a missionary household and later as an adult.

Movies generally depict tribal people as indistinguishable stereotypes, but this film brings alive unique personalities within the Waodani tribe. The film shows them smiling, playing, worrying, and being likeable—except for that habit of killing each other. Director Jim Hanon coaxes remarkable performances from the indigenous people who make up most of his cast.

The film also captures the feel of the 1950s in its portrayal of the missionary household, as little Stevie in his cowboy hat overhears the missionaries making their plans and worries about his dad. After the slow-motion scene in which the five missionaries die, we see his grief. Then we see him living with the tribe, playing with the Waodani children, and gradually developing a life-long friendship with Mincayani, who struggles to accept his forgiveness.

The real-life Steve Saint, a missionary pilot like his father, flew the planes in the movie and commented on the script as it was developed. Mr. Saint said that when he lived with the Waodani as an adult, he and his wife showed them movies, with as many as 100 people crowding around the screen in their home. The Waodani said of Hollywood violence, "We killed people we hate, but the foreigners kill people they don't even know."

Mr. Saint showed End of the Spear to the real-life Micaye, wondering whether he would comprehend it. A little way into the movie Micaye said, "Look! That's like me!" Mr. Saint replied, "And see that little boy, he's like me!" Micaye kept up the thrill of recognition, saying throughout the movie, "And that's like . . ."

"When it got to the killing scene," Mr. Saint said, "I held my breath and prayed he wouldn't be offended." Micaye was somber as the movie depicted his character killing the missionaries. "This is our history," he said, "but other people are pretending to be us."

At the end of the movie, Micaye said he felt "very much well." Why? "Maybe now the foreigners who are living angry and killing will see there is a better trail and they will want to walk this good trail."

-WORLD Magazine

Read the entire review here.


  • MVB,

    Here's an interesting article from Tim Challies on the movie.

    Verrry interesting....

    By Blogger Kristin, at 5:15 PM  

  • Hmmmm... interesting. If this is the case, I don't think it is that big of a deal. I don't know why they chose him as an actor, but I don't think it makes much of a difference in the film. It is a movie. The actors are... well, acting.

    By Blogger MVB, at 6:04 PM  

  • ....I don't think it makes that much of a difference on the film itself.

    By Blogger MVB, at 6:04 PM  

  • I don't think it does either, I just thought it was interesting.

    A good friend of my mom's knows the people who put this movie together, as well as several of the Saint children. She said that they wanted the best actors, so I guess that would explain it a bit.

    By Blogger Kristin, at 6:48 PM  

  • Kristin said...

    Here's an interesting article from Tim Challies on the movie.

    Verrry interesting....

    Interesting article, Kristin.

    But, if you look at anything in this world long enough you will always be able to find fault with it. How about looking at what is good about this movie?

    Those who hate God will always have a platform in which to express their ungodly ideas. The world clamors for their lies.

    What the author of the article fails to see is that every time an unbeliever is given a platform to express his views, we Christians are given an oportunity to witness against it.

    There are many Christians who are grateful this story is being told through a very powerful medium. Not only will the lives of dedicated Christians be told, but the mercies of God will also be told. And the very best part of the movie will be that God's Word will be read/spoken! And we know that His Word will never return void...

    I just read this link..

    And see that the author wanted to bring a little more clarity to his earlier post...

    ""In issues like this one, it our duty to think in the realm of revealed truth ("true Truth") and ask of the Biblical text which Scriptures inform our decision as to whether or not to watch the film. Reading through the comments, some Scriptures are mentioned, but there is very little in the way of direct application..."

    Paul is right. None of the Apostles took the time to tell us whether or not to watch movies led by homosexual actors. This, as with many areas, requires thought and falls into an issue of conscience.

    I sometimes take for granted that people understand this web site to be my reflections on life and the results of what happens when I wrestle with an issue. I did not mean for my article to say, "You are evil if you watch The End of the Spear" or "A good Christian wouldn't see it." I merely meant to reflect on some of the deeper issues beyond simply whether or not the movie does a good job of portraying some Christian heroes. If people understand the deeper issues behind the film and pause to reflect on them, I think we'll all be better for it. I agree with Paul when he says "It seems to me that the worst thing that could happen is that our endorsement or rejection would harm the unity we share in Christ." We musn't let peripheral issues like this divide us. At the same time, it does benefit us to consider and wrestle with them."

    I agree

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:27 PM  

  • Cool! Your mom knows the Saint children??? Wow! :)

    By Blogger MVB, at 9:28 PM  

  • No, no, no, no! My mom's best friend knows the Saint kids. And that same friend has also talked with Elisabeth Elliot and a few of the other wives.

    Anonymous, I agree with everything that you say here. I just thought I'd share the link because I found it interesting. My intention wasn't to stir things up and tell people not to view the movie. Nor was it to pick on the bad.

    Thanks for the other link. I haven't read the article yet, but the part you quote I agree with as well.

    By Blogger Kristin, at 10:00 PM  

  • Ok, I see.... still cool. :)

    By Blogger MVB, at 11:09 PM  

  • I stumbled across your blog while doing research on Happy Valentine's Day for my site Happy Valentine's Day. Thought I'd say thanks!

    By Blogger Devon, at 6:43 AM  

  • Great post Zach! I saw the article in World on the movie- it looks very good! My parents are going to see it tonight. :)

    By Blogger Sara, at 5:24 PM  

  • Let me know what they thought of it. :)

    By Blogger MVB, at 5:44 PM  

  • Well, I am probably going to see it too. I was hoping to go to the matinee tonight...but it didn't work out. Maybe sometime this weekend :)

    By Blogger Kristin, at 5:49 PM  

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