As 'Jesus Revolution' Hits Theaters, Producer Tells of 'Miracle After Miracle'
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LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The 1970s saw people traveling to southern California looking for truth. Then something extraordinary happened: the pastor of a struggling church opened his doors to a charismatic street preacher and a steady stream of young people. It gave birth to one of the greatest spiritual awakenings in American history. That story is now a major motion picture.
Jon Erwin is one half of the filmmaking duo The Erwin Brothers. Jon and Andrew are the team that delivered the hits I Can Only Imagine, Woodlawn, October Baby, and Mom's Night Out." But it's taken Jon seven years to bring a more than 50-year-old story to screen in his latest film Jesus Revolution.
"This project has taken many twists and turns. It's the longest I've ever worked on a movie," Jon told CBN News' Studio 5.
"My hope is people enjoy the movie. And we want to make you laugh and cry. But there really is a movement behind this movie."
The historic Jesus Movement began on the West Coast and spread. The Christian revival saw young people, often called hippies, turning to Christ.
The revival that unfolded in Southern California in the late 1960s and early 1970s is what Time Magazine called "The Jesus Revolution." But just four years earlier, the front page of the very same magazine was asking, "Is God Dead?"
Those magazine covers inspired Jon to begin work on his film, even before his hit film I Can Only Imagine.
Holding both magazines in his hand, Jon Erwin told CBN News, "I bought this seven years ago, and read this article. And then I bought this one as well. First cover of Time without a picture. And that was my very question. What happened in between these two magazines? This bleak statement and then this psychedelic Jesus. And something was happening so undeniable in American society that Time Magazine had to give it credit with a cover story, as did Life Magazine and Look Magazine."
"Then I began to study it. And I wanted to meet people that lived it. That was the beginning of my relationship with Greg Laurie."
Pastor Greg Laurie leads one of the largest church congregations in the country. But his faith story and love story begin inside the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. And both are featured in Erwin's film.
Studio 5 talked to Laurie and his wife Cathe as they walked the red carpet at the Los Angeles premiere of Jesus Revolution.
"People know me as an older guy, and it is interesting for them to be introduced to us when we were young," Greg shared. "It's our story, but it's like I am watching another story. But it is a story of redemption. And we are sort of representing a generation of young people that were searching."
Cathe Laurie added, "I was aware of how powerful it was for me. It was life-changing. It was overnight. It was darkness to light. And I've seen it played out in others' lives, as they've had encounters with Christ. But I never thought our story, especially my story, would be told in such a beautiful way."
Joel Courtney plays the role of Greg Laurie in the film. Anna Grace Barlow portrays Cathe Laurie and The Chosen's Jonathan Roumie rounds out the cast in the role of the young charismatic preacher, Lonnie Frisbee.
These cast members shared their thoughts on what gave birth to the revival story they're now helping to tell on the silver screen.
"The culture was in a moment of fraught need. I think that is what primes a revival. This kind of like lost sheep," Courtney said. "The need, the desire to reground yourself. And there is no grounding that's better than the cornerstone of Christ."
Jonathan Roumie plays the role of Lonnie Frisbee (Photo courtesy: "Jesus Revolution")
Roumie said, "I think as humans we are hardwired for a couple of things. One of those is community, only second to God. Relationship with God and community with each other. And when those two things seem to be compromised in society, the spirit starts to rebel against that and try to figure out how to put that back in its right order. And so you have these revivals."
"And I think you see it now with what's going on in Kentucky," he said.
Barlow chimed in, "I want to piggyback on that because I can't stop thinking about Damar Hamlin going down on the field a few weeks ago. And the gut reaction was to take a knee and pray. And to pray on national television. I haven't seen anything like this in years."
"When they say we are primed for it, that's a buzz phrase I have been hearing around this movie, I think that's true."
Filmmakers often say that getting a movie made is a miracle. Producer Kevin Downes would agree. But he also saw miracles while working on this project.
Downes said, "There's moments of miracles whenever you make a film. Obviously, the entire process. But this one had miracle after miracle, where we really felt and sensed God's presence throughout the entire process."
The miracles include how veteran actor Kelsey Grammer signed on for the lead role of Calvary Chapel Pastor Chuck Smith.
In an interview with CBS News, Grammer said, "I was having a late night and I was thinking I want to do something that has some value, beyond just another role, something that I enjoy playing. And the very next morning, this script was delivered to my house."
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