Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Modern Day Elmer Gantry Film In the Works: An Edgy Look at Religion Rocks the Boat

Former faith-healer turned movie-maker Richard Rossi is making his own 21st Century film version of the archetypal story of an Elmer Gantryish lusty, con-man preacher. 
Rossi in his heydey as hands-on healer

The movie, entitled "Canaan Land," is in preproduction, raising funds on GoFundMe as Rossi polishes his script with last-minute modifications.

The controversial clergyman made a journey from scripture to script, acting in various roles including the part of Elmer Gantry in a stage version of the role in Los Angeles. 
Richard Rossi on stage as Elmer Gantry

Rossi will play the lead role of a charismatic, con man preacher in the film, tentatively set to film in fall 2016, and for release in 2017.
Burt Lancaster won Oscar for Elmer Gantry

The original film version of "Elmer Gantry" won three 1960 Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Burt Lancaster, and Best Supporting Actress for Shirley Jones. Rossi's story is not a remake of Gantry, but an updated story based on his own experiences in evangelism.

Rossi received notoriety in his past as a preacher for his rock 'n' roll style of preaching. He released a contemporary Christian music album and wrote, edited and co-produced a documentary on the healing power of prayer in the early '90s.

Rossi and his wife now live in Los Angeles, where they lead "Eternal Grace," a ministry to actors, artist, writers, and some celebrities who like private home services to avoid paparazzi.

Eternal Grace has been protested by fundamentalists like the late Fred ("God Hates Fags") Phelps, for Rossi's lenient attitude towards homosexuals and message of the unconditional love of God for all. 
Fundamentalist Fred Phelps protested Rossi

 "We've protested Rossi for his unbiblical acceptance of homosexuals, both in his  acting in film and theater with known Sodomites, and his ministry to AIDS patients that doesn't confront their sin," Reverend Daren Moore, a Rossi protester, said.  "The 1960 film 'Elmer Gantry' was a blasphemous attack on Christianity, and a fag-loving preacher like Rossi's new film will make Bible Christians look bad."

"Fundamentalists who protest military funerals with hate signs make Christianity look bad," Rossi said.  "For them to lecture anyone on not making the church look bad is like the Kardashians lecturing on being role models of good taste to young girls."

Rossi's daughter Karis is graduating in the Spring with a Theology degree from Azusa Pacific University, and plans to help him in the ministry while he is shooting the film.
Rossi & daughter Karis at film premiere (Photo: Pam Newman)

Funds raised through GoFundMe go to Eternal Grace, a verified 501c3 non-profit with bylaws that express a mission of sharing a message of hope and love through the arts and starting new Eternal Grace groups. All film donations to GoFundMe for "Canaan Land" qualify therefore as tax-deductible donations.
Rossi is appealing for funding for the film
In Rossi's screenplay, his character is redeemed by the love of Sister Sara Sunday, a pure believer. Over 1,000 actresses auditioned for the female lead of Sara, and only seven made it to the final round of consideration. The casting of the part has not yet been finalized.

Earlier this month, Christian Today magazine reported Rossi was threatened by some of the biggest names in televangelism because his script will reveal some of the tricks famous faith healers use to fool their audiences, that until now, have remained closely guarded trade secrets.

Although Rossi refused to name names, national news reports televangelist Benny Hinn is one of the evangelist whose followers threatened Rossi.  
Faith-healer Benny Hinn followers allegedly threatened Rossi

"Mr. Rossi better watch his back," Tony Brown, a devotee of Hinn said.  "The Bible says, 'Touch not God's anointed.'  Pastor Benny Hinn is a spiritual father to me.  Thousands fall down under the anointing at his crusades.  Richard Rossi has said Pastor Benny Hinn is wrong to ask for donations for people to be healed.  Benny has his expenses.  He teaches us to sow a seed out of our need and we will be blessed." 

"Benny Hinn has his expenses all right," Brad Shapiro, a casting associate on the film said.  "He lives in a hilltop mansion in Newport Beach and drives two Mercedes."

"I'm not doing it to attack anyone, or defame anyone by name," Rossi said. "I simply believe that the artist can tell the truth, often far better than religious or political figures. Jesus said the truth shall set us free."

Rossi's previous films he's directed or acted in include two on the life of fabled female evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, a biopic of baseball legend Roberto Clemente, and a story of battling the devil with Malcolm McDowell as Satan.

The GoFundMe for the film is http://www.gofundme.com/CanaanLand

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Karen Armstrong, 
CNW Correspondent
"Canaan Land," a feature film telling a contemporary story of an Elmer Gantryish evangelist, is in preproduction. Written by former healing evangelist Richard Rossi, the film project has already stirred up controversy and concern among big names in televangelism, before a single frame of film has been shot.

Rossi's prior short film on female evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson won Southern Motion Picture Council Awards, and was Academy Award considered.  His recent biopic on baseball icon Roberto Clemente was praised by Pope Francis and catalyzed a campaign to consider Clemente's canonization as the next saint as reported in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Religion News, and Huffington Post.  His new film "Canaan Land" has angered famous TV healers to the point they've threatened Rossi. 

"Shocking evidence of how off-the-hinges these big name preachers are in their verbal abuse to Mr. Rossi will be released publicly soon," said a private detective who spoke under condition of anonymity.  He is investigating the case and protecting Rossi as he makes "Canaan Land."  "We will be releasing to national media very soon tape and film evidence of top TV Pentecostal preachers efforts to destroy Mr. Rossi and the film."
"The production office has received messages trying to stop the film from going forward from some of the biggest names in charismatic and Pentecostal televangelism, because Rossi's film reveals secrets of the tricks famous preachers have used to fool their audiences.  But for every negative message, we receive a hundred positive ones from people who see Rossi doing what Jesus did when he cleansed the Temple of those defrauding sincere worshippers.  The film is not a remake of the 1960 film 'Elmer Gantry.' It is a completely new story based on Rossi's youthful experiences in the world of fundamentalist Pentecostalism," Linda Rivas, a production assistant said.

Rossi would not say who is upset over the film project, but the Go Fund Me site for the film (See  http://www.gofundme.com/canaanland ) had a picture of faith healer Benny Hinn with a quote from the Los Angeles Times in which Hinn appears to promise healing for money.  "If you come back and make that financial pledge, God will heal your heart tonight," Hinn said.
"There is power in our work when we take a stand," Rossi said.  "Hinn's statement is so clearly wrong and manipulative I must take a stand," Rossi said.  Rossi has temporarily removed the Hinn quote because he wants the focus to be on the positive message of the film, what he calls the "unconditional love of God."

Followers of Hinn threatened Rossi on his Facebook page that God would get Rossi, smiting him with sickness.  "His followers appear to take a cue from Hinn himself who has said those that oppose him would be shot with a "Holy Ghost machine gun," associate producer Dave Taschner said.  "We do have consultants on the film who worked with the most famous faith healers."

"I don't want to defame people by name, so my film is fiction and will change names to avoid lawsuits," Rossi said.  "My film has a redemptive ending that I don't want to spoil, in which even the narcissistic evangelist running the con is confronted by the reality of unconditional love.  God loves those who start out with pure hearts and get seduced by money, power, and fame.  He wants them to come back to their first love."

"Canaan Land is a timely fascinating compelling script that is already getting press due to it's unapologetic look at modern religion," Dann Mead said.  Mead is an actor promoting the film & rumored to be attached.

"Richard Rossi, who performed the role of Elmer Gantry on stage, and the real life character David Hutton who inspired the fictional Gantry on screen in the movie 'Sister Aimee: The Aimee Semple McPherson Story,' portrays an evangelist. Rossi's preacher character is a Gantrylike con man who builds a church and TV ministry. He gets caught up in the business side of evangelism and loses his connection to the Holy Spirit," Linda Rivas, who is a volunteer spokesperson for the project in handling the controversy said.

                                SISTER SARA
"Canaan Land, at its core, is a love story," Elizabeth Rossi said in a recent radio interview.  Ms. Rossi is Richard's sister and an associate producer of the film.  "Brother Gantry falls in love with Sister Sara, a true believer who helps bring about his repentance and redemption."

Thousands of actresses, known and unknown, have auditioned for the coveted role of Sister Sara.  The casting decision hasn't been finalized, but is narrowed down to a handful of "stellar candidates," according to the film's website.
Katy Perry's parents are Pentecostal preachers. 

"Actresses and singers with Pentecostal backgrounds who are interested in exploring the themes, are among the names who have come up in discussions and been pursued and considered," Brad Shapiro, a casting associate said.  Two who were raised in the signs and wonders of Pentecostalism are Katy Perry and Megan Fox.  "Mr. Rossi, as the writer, tends to think in terms of who is best for the part, not their degree of fame or IMDB ranking."
Megan Fox was raised Pentecostal.  
She says she still "prays in tongues."
"Rossi's script exposes faith healing frauds and gimmicks big name preachers have used to con the flock," Tyrone Lee, one of the film's volunteer production assistants said. "He wants to contrast the false side of religion with that which is authentic.  He knows this world from the inside and will reveal the magic tricks for the first time."

"Looking back on my years as a healing evangelist, I never did anything fraudulent to fake healings," Rossi said.  "I prayed sincerely wanting God to heal people, and refused to report healings without medical verification.  I was honest when people weren't healed and up front about the suffering we go through."
"My time in that world allowed me to see shocking tricks some big names do," Rossi said.  "They fake miracles, such as a gold dust stunt... a rigged trick they claim is angel feathers and gold flakes falling from Heaven. This hoax helped turn a church in California into the mecca for the charismatic movement," Rossi said.  "When the crowds for my healing services grew bigger, I lost my way spiritually.   I see that happening to some of the well-known healing evangelists today."

"The film is not an attack on religion," Rossi said.  "It is my intention in exposing the counterfeit to show the search for that anointing of the Holy Spirit which is pure, lovely, true, and of good report. Overly defensive believers may say we shouldn't expose the counterfeit, but a counterfeit testifies that there is a real anointing, a truth that sets us free."
               ADDITIONAL INFO
For more information, visit http://www.gofundme.com/canaanland
 The film's Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/CanaanLandMovie 
The "Canaan Land Company" production phone number is: 1-(507)-400-CAST