Billy Graham Movie Taps Bible Belt for Grassroots Support

The Georgia Baptist Missions and Ministry Center of the Georgia Baptist Convention will be the site of the next advanced screen for the upcoming film based on the life of internationally renowned evangelist Billy Graham.

The producers of the "Billy: The Early Years" are hoping to generate some buzz in the coming weeks by holding more than 50 advanced screenings for the movie, set to hit theatres officially on Oct. 10. Sneak peeks have already been held at 10 different locations so far. The next one in Duluth, Ga., will take place Thursday.

"Today, Christian filmmakers can count on a very savvy pastoral community that's looking to highlight films like these to their congregations," said Doug Phillips, founder of the Christian Filmmakers Academy and the 5-year-old San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, according to The Guardian newspaper of London.

Such support has bolstered faith-based films such as Sherwood Baptist Church's "Facing the Giants," which struck a chord with U.S. moviegoers in 2006, lasting 17 weeks in theaters nationwide and selling over one million DVD units.

The highly anticipated "Early Years" is set to release one month before Graham's 90th birthday and stars 21-year-old actor Armie Hammer as the young Billy Graham. The movie captures the essence of Graham's journey from a young man at the crossroads of faith and doubt to ultimately facing the moment of decision that gave way to one of history's most influential evangelists.

"They've never made a movie about this guy, and beyond any sort of spiritual reasons or anything like that, he is really an iconic figure of the 20th century," Hammer told The Tennessean after filming for the movie commenced on Mar. 26.

"I've been going to church and reading my Bible and doing a lot of other spiritual work to get in that right headspace to even start to play someone like Billy Graham," Hammer revealed.

Starting with Graham's teenage years in Charlotte, N.C., the upcoming film paints a vivid portrait of Graham and his life before international prominence – from the legendary series of revival meetings in Charlotte that ultimately led to Graham's conversion in 1934 to the early stages of his relationship with Ruth Bell, the woman who Graham would eventually marry.

Also captured in the film is Graham's relationship with the evangelical star of the 1940s, Charles Templeton, a gifted young preacher who would eventually reject the Christian faith after a long struggle with doubt. In the film, Templeton comes to personify the rising tide of disbelief into which Graham launched his evangelistic crusades.

Since June, the trailer for the movie has been posted in numerous Christian websites, including the increasingly popular website, which tallied nearly 30,000 viewers of the Graham movie trailer after about a month of exposure.

The upcoming sneak peeks aim to inspire "pastors, leaders, influencers" to rally their flocks behind the movie.

Notably, the advanced screenings are almost entirely being held on sites throughout the Bible Belt – in the states of Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Kentucky, Virginia, and Arkansas.

Meanwhile, according to The Guardian, the film's producers are still trying to get the blessings of Billy Graham and his family, including son Franklin, who reportedly was not thrilled about not having been shown a script before the movie was made.

Producer Larry Mortorff told the U.K.-based newspaper that copies of the finished film were delivered to Franklin Graham and the family. Franklin Graham has reportedly seen it but has been too busy traveling lately to comment. Most recently, Franklin, who heads the relief agency Samaritan's Purse as well as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was in North Korea, where he discussed with officials how his organization could help the North Korean people and strengthen U.S.-North Korean relations.

"We hope what we've done is pleasing to him (Franklin)," said Mortorff. "It's a homage to his dad."

According to The Guardian, a spokesman for the elder Graham, who is in frail health, said he has not yet seen it.

Billy Graham's eldest daughter, Gigi Graham, however, has seen it – and is publicly praising it. Furthermore, Mortorff said she's been hired as a consultant for the film.

On the Web:

The Movie Trailer for 'The Early Years of Billy Graham' at
The Official Movie Website at
List of Advanced Screening Venues at

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