Hollywood has long been known for its tantalizing lore about behind-the-scenes bickering over money and power. But the Christian film community may now be getting a taste of the trials of its secular big brother.

For the last four years, Muskegon, Michigan-based Gospel Films, one of the nation’s oldest church film production and distribution houses, and Calvary Chapel, the influential Southern California church that helped launch the “Jesus movement,” have been engaged in a legal tug-of-war over a film in which both claim to have a stake.

At the center of the dispute are videocassette distribution rights for the evangelistic film Fury to Freedom. The 1985 film was produced by Jimmy Kempner, who, in addition to working in film, was at the time employed by Calvary Chapel. According to Calvary Chapel, the church loaned $223,000 to Kempner and to the film’s director, Erik Jacobson, with the understanding the film would be made independent of Kempner’s role with the church.

Calvary Chapel claims that, according to a verbal agreement among all concerned parties, Gospel Films would distribute a 16-millimeter version of the film. The church understood it retained the rights to sell a cable-TV version and market that version on videocassette. The church hired the Escondido, California—based Bridgestone Group to distribute the videotape.

Disputed Contract

In July 1988 Gospel Films filed suit in federal court against Bridgestone, claiming that Gospel Films alone had virtually all distribution rights to Fury to Freedom. Gospel Films produced a contract dated May 7, 1985, in which “Jimmy Kempner and Calvary Chapel, Inc.” are listed as producers and Erik Jacobson as director.

The church claims it never signed the contract. Jeff Smith, vice-president ...

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