Chasing the Storyteller
Before he was out of his teen years, David L. Cunningham had seen the world. The son of Youth With a Mission (YWAM) founder Loren Cunningham had visited 100 countries by age 19. Those childhood treks included dining with the rich, feeding the poor, and much in between--instilling him with a desire to tell stories on the big screen.
After graduating from film school, Cunningham made some documentaries before his first indie flick, To End All Wars (2001), about World War II POWs who are abused by their captors, caught the eye of a Steven Spielberg associate. ABC then hired Cunningham to direct The Path to 9/11 (2006), a controversial TV miniseries. The film blamed the 9/11 attacks on the Clinton administration, saying it had missed the chance to take out Osama bin Laden. The Clintons complained, and ABC cut several scenes. Some attacked not just the film but also Cunningham, his faith, and his parents. Cunningham says there were even death threats.
Cunningham, now 40, is working on Day of War, a 3D film about King David and his mighty men, based on the first book in Cliff Graham's Lion of War series. Cunningham promises a "major motion picture in the vein of the Lord of the Rings."
Question & Answer
What did The Path to 9/11 experience teach you?
The fact that my faith was one of the main things used as a so-called weapon against the content was really eye-opening for me. People in Hollywood tried to blackball me. They said YWAM funded The Path to 9/11. They said my dad was a snake handler. It got crazy. But it was a great study in the collision of politics, entertainment, and faith. If you're going to be a filmmaker, you need thick skin. The challenge as a person of faith is how to have thick skin but keep your heart soft.
What's your best memory of making To End All Wars?
That it was a story of forgiveness in the face of suffering and in the context of war. The fact that it's true blew my mind.
Were you into movies as a kid?
My grandparents believed that if you were in a cinema when Jesus came home, you were going to be left behind. My parents didn't watch movies as kids. My first experience with Star Wars was when a kid explained it to me. I didn't see my first movie till I was 12 or 13. And then I was swept away.
I come from a long line of not just ministers, but storytellers and authors. My 96-year-old grandmother has written about her travels. My great-grandfather started 13 churches across the West out of covered wagons. Telling stories is part of me. Then I went to film school, and I just couldn't get enough of it. It became apparent that this was not just a childhood dream but also a deep passion.
How do you understand your calling?
I'm a follower of Christ who looks to him for inspiration and direction, and hopefully can make a difference in a hurting world. Christ was an incredible storyteller, and I hope to follow in his footsteps.
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Previous "Who's Next" sections featured Timothy Dalrymple, John Sowers, Alissa Wilkinson, Jamie Tworkowski, Bryan Jennings, L. L. Barkat, Robert Gelinas, Nicole Baker Fulgham, Gideon Strauss, W. David O. Taylor, Crystal Renaud, Eve Nunez, Adam Taylor, Matthew Lee Anderson, Margaret Feinberg, and Jonathan Merritt.