Students Object to University Role in Movie on Trump

A book about an alleged prophecy describing Donald Trump’s win as U.S. president is being produced as a movie by Liberty University, but students at the Christian college are pushing back on the film.

The production, in which Liberty University students are technicians, editors and set decorators for class credit, tells the story of Mark Taylor, a retired firefighter from Orlando, Florida. Taylor said in 2011 God told him Trump would become president of the United States. Trump won the election in 2016.

“This movie could reflect very poorly on all Liberty students and Liberty University as a whole,” states an online petition called “Cancel the Liberty University Film Programs Heretical Film Project,” created by Liberty students.

The author’s “claims to have received prophecies directly from God … do not align with the Bible’s message,” states the petition signed by more than 2,000 respondents.

Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Virginia, partnered with Christian filmmaker Rick Eldridge, owner of Reel Works Studio in Charlotte, N.C., to produce the book, which was published in July 2017. 

Liberty University staff contends that this has been an excellent learning experience for students in cinematic arts at the university.

“We think this feature-length work experience is unique to our department among film schools,” said Stephan Schultze, Liberty professor of cinematic arts and director of the film. “This distinction gives our students a skill set that makes them ready for the workforce upon graduating.”

Movie production experience

Students agree they have gained hands-on experience working on the movie production. But some said they object to the alleged prophecy and the message.

In their online petition, they cited a later interpretation of the Bible, 1 John 4:1, that suggests believers “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

“We should be very wary of modern-day prophets,” the petition says. “Mark Taylor has claimed God told him that electing Trump will save the world, which is unbiblical at best and heretical at worst.”

“Liberty’s mission statement and purpose is to be a light on a hill and to train champions for Christ,” the petition continues. “Openly supporting both a ‘modern-day prophet’ and Trump as a school does not convey this mission.”

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. is an outspoken Trump supporter and was appointed to the Trump Task Force for Higher Education in 2017.

Schultze said the Liberty students who worked on the film served in positions that usually go to people with at least five years of experience in the film industry.

The Liberty students pushed back, saying they were “of the distasteful opinion that the producer had only come to Liberty to make his film because he could get free student labor that would significantly lower the cost of making the film,” according to a source who asked to remain anonymous. “Many of us felt used at times, which was another reason why we petitioned against the film in the first place.”

Students were given other options to working on the prophecy film, but those were of lesser experience, the source said. Well into the making of the film, students said, “it became clear … after the initial script reading and the many rewrites … the film did have a political agenda, which we were against.”

Biopic-style film

Schultze said the film is a biopic that “chronicles real-life events, following a fireman [Taylor] suffering from PTSD who believes he has heard a message from God, that Donald Trump will be the next president.” He did not respond directly to whether he thought the film was heretical but said he would “advise people to watch the movie first.”

“I think the film will be well-received, and people will be inspired to know that our students have created a narrative film whose quality is strong enough to warrant a national theatrical release on more than 1,200 screens,” he said.

“This is been a great experience for students, and I believe it will provide them with the edge they need for employment upon graduating,” Schultze added.

He said that Liberty University did not receive or pay any fees in exchange for the movie being produced there. He said there was a “cost benefit to student involvement,” but there was also “a risk to engage newly skilled labor still in a steep learning curve. It all evens out in the end because additional shooting days are required for the teaching process to take place on set. Our students’ education is a huge benefactor in the process.”

Students contested that the experience had enhanced their learning.

“Many do not want this movie on their resume and some are even considering … dropping out,” the student petition said.

Eldridge of Reel Works said he wants the film’s message to resonate with its viewers.

“We hope that they will be inspired by all that is great about our country,”  Eldridge said of the audience in an email to VOA. “All the while we hope that they will be entertained by the story and the many voices who will speak during our reflective conversations after the dramatic story.”

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