Bonhoeffer Film Draws Community Together

May 30, 2017 | Juli Miller

Slack season in a ski resort town. Monday night after Easter weekend. Not a good time to schedule a new event, especially one that has to do with a World War II Christian martyr.

But the Wood River Valley Church in Hailey, Idaho, did just that, and about 150 people — including a considerable number of young people — came on April 17 to view the new docudrama Come Before Winter, produced by Gary Blount, an Adventist psychiatrist from the St. Paul, Minn., region. Kevin Ekvall, the film’s director, as well as three other key members of the production crew, studied film production at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tenn.

Immediately following the screening, there was a Q-and-A session with representatives from the sponsoring organizations. A majority of the audience remained for this discussion, expressing appreciation for the film’s powerful depiction of courage and faith and wondering aloud if citizens in the local community would not be afraid to take resistive action when faced with evil akin to the Third Reich’s. 

The film about German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer had just been presented at the annual Bonhoeffer Lectures in Public Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and there had been a few screenings at some Adventist facilities in California and the Hollywood Presbyterian Church where the film’s music composer was affiliated. The April issue of Smithsonian Magazine included a full-page story regarding the film, focusing on the Black Propaganda, or fake news campaign, conducted from Britain with the able contribution of Ian Fleming, who would go on to author the James Bond series of spy novels.

Stephen McCandless, the new pastor at this small Adventist church, invited the Wood River Jewish Community and the Valley of Peace Lutheran Church to co-sponsor the Northwest premiere of the film in the performing arts auditorium of the local junior college campus. Blount and his wife, Lee, agreed to attend the premiere as well as make a presentation on Easter Sabbath to provide additional background on the film. Bonhoeffer, who was one of the founders of the Confessing Church, is perhaps best known for penning Cost of Discipleship, Ethics and Life Together and for his role as an active anti-Nazi dissident who was executed by the Third Reich just weeks before the end of World War II in Europe.

A series of good things have already occurred:

  • Leadership in the Lutheran, Jewish and Adventist organizations became acquainted as they met several times to plan event details.
  • Local media produced prominently placed articles about the events, sponsors and Bonhoeffer.
  • A number of visitors attended the 11 a.m. Sabbath program at the Adventist church and stayed afterwards for lunch and conversation regarding Bonhoeffer, the role of Christians in the face of public evil, and those things which are common or distinct between the Adventist, Lutheran and Jewish faith traditions. A reporter who had already done a story on the film screening attended and wrote a second piece which was published on Easter Sunday. A visiting couple said they were “seekers” who believed in the Sabbath but did not know how to “keep the Sabbath day.” They were interested in learning more. 
  • The main event — screening of the film on Monday evening — was attended largely by community members of all ages unfamiliar to our church members. Attendees expressed much appreciation for the sponsors and discussion touched on aspects of Christian witness and actions in today’s world and each person’s community.
  • The Lutheran and Adventist groups plan to organize some joint book or Bible study activities. The Jewish representatives also expressed interest in continued interaction such as sharing some Sabbath celebrations or discussion of Passover.

McCandless says, “When we label a person we dehumanize them and can then do to them whatever we want, just as we have just seen in this docudrama. I hope our community is better than this.”

A sample of some of the media coverage:

Easter Sunday

Idaho Mountain Express