After winning two highly coveted film festival awards and press coverage in North America, a newly-released movie about the final years in the life of the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is building a strong international following. The film, Bonhoeffer: An Agent of Grace, was released in mid-June in North America and will be screened in European cinemas from the end of this month.The story of the Lutheran cleric, who along with other Germans opposed Adolf Hitler and was hanged in prison in April 1945, has won the Best Film Award at the Monte Carlo International Film Festival and an award at the Munich International Film Festival.The Aid Association for Lutherans (AAL), an investment and insurance organization based in Appleton, in the US state of Wisconsin, initiated, developed and underwrote the movie, which was screened here on 14 June on the Public Broadcast System television network. Almost four million viewers watched the film, which is being promoted as the story of "a Christian theologian who gave his life to save Jewish people and one who opposed his own church in its support of Hitler."Dennis Clauss, a senior executive for AAL in charge of church relations, said his company wanted to produce a movie for a mass audience - not a documentary, and not a movie for traditional Christian television."We wanted it to be on network television," Clauss told ENI. "We wanted to get this into the mainstream. We had been approached for at least 20 years by people who wanted to do a film on Bonhoeffer. By mid-1995 we got serious about a made-for-television movie."The result is a US$3.25 million international production focusing on Bonhoeffer's faith and sacrifice."Very early we made the decision that the film would have a Christological core, and that this point could not be negotiated," Clauss said. "In talks with producers, some wanted it to be a love story, some wanted it to be a spy story. We decided early the focus had to be on Bonhoeffer's faith."One of the real challenges in producing this film was maintaining a balance between entertainment and historical accuracy," Clauss said. "After it premiered in the United States, we received hundreds of email messages, letters and phonecalls from people saying they loved it. It seemed to touch for many people the core of what it means to be a human and a Christian."Born in Breslau, Germany in 1906, Bonhoeffer became a university professor with a doctorate in theology, as well as a participant in the early ecumenical movement and a prolific writer. Most notably of all, he was a leading figure among Protestants--in the "Confessing Church"--who opposed Nazism. His participation in plans to assassinate Adolf Hitler led to his arrest, imprisonment and eventual death by hanging, at the age of 39, at Flossenburg concentration camp in 1945. An icon among modern religious thinkers, Bonhoeffer wrote about ethics, the nature of the world and the Christian's role within it. His beliefs and principles are still widely regarded as highly relevant to the lives of contemporary Christians."This was not intended to be a documentary, and there is no way you can - in just 84 minutes - do justice to Bonhoeffer," Clauss told ENI. "Our goal was not to have the film be the final product. Our goal was to present to the television public the story of a contemporary Christian who was living out his beliefs in one of the darkest times of the 20th century."For many Lutherans, another important element of Bonhoeffer's life is his opposition to Christian prejudice against Jews. He became an advocate for the rights of Jews in Nazi Germany, and helped save many Jewish lives.Bonhoeffer's book, Letters and Papers from Prison, is often ranked as one of the top 10 spiritual books of the 20th century.Produced by a Berlin company, Neue Filmproduktion (NFP), the new movie was filmed in Germany, Canada and the Czech Republic and completed in mid-1999. By the time the film was released in June, it had seven financial sponsors worldwide - in Germany, Canada, the US and Scandinavia.The film was directed by Eric Till who lives in Ontario, Canada, and stars Ulrich Turkur who is said to have a strong resemblance to Bonhoeffer.A leading US religious publication, Christianity Today, said that the film "shows us a theologian in action, rethinking what it means to serve God, love others, and especially to tell the truth."HollywoodJesus.com, a Web site with reviews of current films, gave the movie an overwhelming endorsement and created a bulletin board for viewers to post their own reviews. Of the hundreds of messages posted, most addressed Bonhoeffer's example as a courageous Christian who stood up to his church and his country, and was faithful to his principles, demonstrating how, he believed, Jesus would have reacted to Hitler and the Nazis.
Copyright © 2000 ENIOther Christianity Today stories about Bonhoeffer and this film include:Christian History Corner: Agent of Grace | PBS's Bonhoeffer film shows us a theologian in action. (June 9, 2000) Christian History Corner: Dietrich's Friend Eberhard | A fellow resister of Nazis, editor, and biographer dies half a century after his subject and companion. (April 28, 2000)Christianity Today's sister publications also have a lot to say about the Lutheran pastor and theologian. Christian History, devoted all of issue #32 to his life, and Books and Culturereviewed two new Bonhoeffer biographies in 1998.To read more about PBS's film Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace, click here. In Cell 92 Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote some of his most impassioned theology. Here you can learn more about Bonhoeffer's life, examine his thought and writings, and discuss Bonhoeffer with others.The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Homepage includes translation projects and listings for the International Bonhoeffer Society.Vacation packages including seminars and tours relating to Bonhoeffer's life are available from DB Ministry and Travel Service.Read devotional reflections on Bonhoeffer's essays "Cheap and Costly Grace" and "Life Together" by Richard J. Foster and James B. Smith.Glimpses, part of the Christian History Institute, dedicated an online issue to Bonhoeffer, too.
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