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How a Silent Film Shares the Gospel
How a Silent Film Shares the Gospel

How a Silent Film Shares the Gospel

By Jacob Sahms

Christian Cinema caught up with husband and wife producers Fred and Sharon Wilharm as they prepared to unveil their second film, Providence, in time for Valentine’s Day. This is the story Sharon wrote about Rachel and Mitchell, two people from the small Tennessee town of Providence, who spend forty years crossing paths and straying apart. But the Wilharms’ story is no run-of-the-mill romance: the film contains no dialogue, and a soundtrack of indie artists lay down the perfect track to Rachel and Mitchell’s love story.

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In 2000, the couple moved to a small town and worked on a documentary about the community there. Nine years later, after the release of Facing the Giants, Sharon says the two of them decided to make another film, The Good Book, another dialogue-free film about a Bible that is passed through the lives of fourteen strangers.

“We were trying to avoid the ‘cheese factor,’ discussing the possibilities for a script in a Mexican restaurant,” Sharon said with a chuckle. “Fred asked if we could actually do that? Show not tell? Then we looked around the restaurant like someone was actually going to steal our idea. Seriously, why hadn’t anyone done it before?”

I asked if the dialogue-free aspect made it harder to get actors, or harder to translate from a script. From his sound-producing side, Fred said that it actually makes things easier. “When we were shooting Flowers For Franny, Tennessee was invaded by these bugs called cicadas for weeks. With Providence, the actors could be carrying on in the next room and it didn’t matter. It was very liberating.”

Sharon laughed, adding, “One of the actors says it’s the noisiest set they’ve ever been on. When we’re filming the wedding dress scene, I’m giving directions off to the side. Sometimes, it’s actually sad that we can’t hear what the actors are saying because it’s so beautiful, ad-libbed on the spot, because there is no written dialogue.”

“With The Good Book, people wanted to be in it because Jen Gotzon was in it,” she said, laughing. “Then people wanted to be in Providence because she’d done it. But not everyone gets it.”

From a story perspective, Sharon pulled an idea from a conversation the couple had while travelling years before. “Wouldn’t it be cool if one person in a couple kept being set up by God but they kept doing the wrong thing?” the writer asked. “This started in a different direction but it ended up here.”

“Mitchell is the Christ figure,” Sharon continued, “always loving Rachel from afar. Her grandmother was based on my best friend’s grandmother. She was religious and shared her faith with my friend, but she died and my friend’s younger sisters didn’t have that relationship. My friend stayed faithful but her sisters have struggled ever since.”

Ultimately, the Wilharms hope that the audience will “get” it, and receive the opportunity for second chances that God is constantly offering us.

“Our story is about how it’s never too late to hope, to find love, to experience a brighter future. People who are waiting should know that God always has a plan.”

Providence debuts this weekend.


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