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