I’ve been anxiously waiting for this book by Dr. Fred Eichelman, and as soon as the mailman delivered it yesterday, I eagerly delved in. Fifty pages later I put it down long enough to cook supper then continued my reading. It’s a who’s who collection of behind the scenes stories of industry folks like Elizabeth Taylor, Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, Kathy Garver, and more. I was pleasantly surprised to see my own name mentioned near the end. I’m excited to share this interview with Dr. Eichelman as he provides us a glimpse into the many stories that await the reader of this fascinating story of how he has used film and film folks to impact lives.
First, introduce yourself and your involvement with film.
I have been involved with film and television all my life. When I became a teacher I found that using commercial film and television I could reach young people who might not be reached otherwise. That was for nearly four decades. I also have been into collecting autographs since I was age ten. I began writing authors, politicians and media stars when I was ten years old. Later when using films and TV in the classroom there were stars who were curious about use of their work and a correspondence would begin. Many of those I corresponded with became friends over the years which has been a real blessing.
When did you first develop a love for film?
As a kid in the small town of New Market, Virginia I discovered a time machine. Not the type H. G. Wells wrote about, it was a building. Inside you had this marvelous screen that could take you anywhere in the world, places beyond imagination. It could carry me back to the past or to the future and sometimes I could see historical events. I could ride the range with Roy Rogers, swing through the trees with Tarzan, shoot through the stars with Flash Gordon, it was amazing.
Give a brief list of some of the film personalities you’ve been blessed to know through the years.
Oh my, that is a tough question as there have been so many. The first was a lady I fell in love with when I saw her in a film with Bing Crosby, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Rhonda Fleming. I was twelve and she graciously answered my letters. That was the first film I used in the classroom and over the years she has shared many projects with me. My wife and I have visited her several times in California. Bob Hope was aware I used his films long before we met him here in the Roanoke Valley. I was a district leader for the campaign of John Warner who became elected to the U.S. Senate and Carolyn and I got to know and work with Elizabeth Taylor, a very different person from what the tabloids presented. Carolyn and I ran media conventions at the time and Elizabeth came as a speaker and sponsored a drama scholarship. I used Jimmy Stewart’s Mr. Smith Goes To Washington in all of my government classes for years and he took a keen interest in this. At one of those media events we had an author and script writer, Leigh Brackett, who was very close to John Wayne. She wrote several of his most outstanding films, Rio Bravos being a personal favorite, and got me in touch with The Duke. A number of the contacts I made was through networking. Rhonda for example helped me get in touch with a former actor, then governor of California, Ronald Reagan as well as Jane Russell and various others.
In more recent years we have been fortunate to work with and have many as long time friends. Four I will mention here because October 1 they will gather with us for a Media Event Reunion in Roanoke Virginia. We got to know Land of the Giants star Deanna Lund during the early days we ran conventions here and we have visited each other’s homes many times. Caroline Munro will be coming all the way in from London and is best known as a Bond girl for The Spy Who Loved Me. Kathy Garver of Family Affair was one of the first ones to encourage me to write the book. And of course there is Nancy Stafford of Matlock fame who wrote the introduction for my book, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” . All the folks I have mentioned here are in the book plus many more.
How has all this merged into your own unique ministry?
As readers will find in the book, it has been an evolutionary thing going back to my childhood. It pretty well exploded with the media conventions I referred to. Back in the early 1970’s a group of Sophomores approached me because one of the most used TV shows in my teaching was the original, the classic Star Trek. The kids wanted me to sponsor a science fiction club which I was happy to do. The group grew very large with people of all ages and there came a desire for a science fiction convention. I had never been to one, but we put together a program with a couple author guests, films, and a memorabilia sales room at Northside High School where I was a teacher. To my surprise the event took off and Carolyn and I were involved in thirty such events using schools, local civic centers and even churches. Now such events run over weekends and we started a chapel program for Sunday mornings. At our first one, to my surprise, Grace Lee Whitney attended. She was a born again Messianic Jew and was a regular in the first Star Trek series. Grace Lee became a very good friend and told stories about the tough time Christians have in Hollywood and we learned from her that there was a need for a media event that allowed Christian actors and actresses to witness their faith. So during our last few years our event became the Point North Christian Media Convention and we understand the very first of its kind in the nation. We did this up until ten years ago, however we found we could accomplish more with a Christian publication devoted to the media titled Point North Tidings. However, some things never die. We have been urged to have the reunion I referred to, a celebration of 40 years since our very first one.
Tell us about your God in the Movies Bible study.
Carolyn and I conducted a Bible Study at a nearby retirement center, but longed to have one in our home. The idea was to use films and TV shows that might have a meaning that we could use scripture with for discussion. We meet the last Friday of each month and we have refreshments. Good fun and conversation. Instead of film we sometimes have a guest speaker and consider Nancy Stafford and Rusty Whitener members as they have been with us several times. We have had some others too like Caroline Munro, John David Ware and Torry Martin. In recent years we have had the pleasure of having an opportunity to use films not made public and our group has been encouraged to give input. That is a responsibility we take very seriously, to have the opportunity to help a Christian film maker. We truly enjoyed having this opportunity with Providence which has become a major award winner and No Sunlight which will be released later this year.
As someone who watches many movies, what advice would you offer to Christian filmmakers striving to use film as an outreach tool?One thing I have to be clear about. While I consider faith films and television productions very important, that does not mean that those are the only kind of films a Christian may gain from. C. S. Lewis once opined that authors and screenwriters do not have complete control of their work. I know some authors really hate that idea. Lewis believed, and I agree, that the Holy Spirit can come into play when the writer develops an idea. The Holy Spirit also may be involved with how we interpret a film.
I think the Holy Spirit was involved when I was inspired to use Star Trek. There are very secular films which in their way may touch a person’s heart and make them aware that there is something higher, God involved. I probably am in the minority in choices I might make, but one of my favorite films is the classic Casablanca. There is definite redemption in that film and that can, in my opinion, make a film great. I would tell Christian film makers they do not have to hit people over the head with a message. That can be a real turnoff. I would think a good film maker and a good film writer would make every attempt to use subtle ways to get their message across.
What inspired you to write FAITH, FAMILY, FILM- A TEACHER’S TREK and what do you hope folks will glean from your book? You could say my life prepared me for the writing of this book. Experiences, influences and the many people. I do not believe in accidental meetings, I believe God puts people in our lives for a purpose.
One of the kind people who endorsed this book, author Jenny Cote, said something that perhaps sums it up best. She wrote that “Fred has enjoyed an almost Forrest Gump-like life journey of serendipitous encounters, which he turned into teaching moments for students in the classroom as well as for students of life in general.” The analogy made me think of something else from the Forrest Gump movie when he is told by his mother that “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.” I hope the book will have surprises and that the reader will feel inspired. I also put an emphasis on how society has changed the past one hundred years and why there is a greater need for better films and TV shows than ever before. Our nation is in real peril right now and we need productions that will up lift, that will show the importance of redemption and that we need a national revival and a turning to Jesus Christ.
How may people get a copy of your book?
The book will be available May 15 from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I must add that I will be supplied with copies to sell both out of my home and at various events. The book costs $9.95 and if mailed then $13.00 to include postage. I will be happy to autograph if requested. Enquiries can be made by emailing me at email@example.com and I will give the address to send the check to. I have been very pleased with the response so far and greatly appreciate the opportunity you have given me to talk about it on Faith Flix.