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The Story Behind a Very Different Kind of Bible Film

The Story Behind a Very Different Kind of Bible Film

The last decade has been a bit of a golden era for biblical media. From Darren Aronofsky’s Noah to Dallas Jenkins’ The Chosen, audiences around the world have flocked to films and movies that bring some of our favorite Bible stories to life. Oftentimes, these stories add missing context or extra scenes to create a fuller picture of what happened, or in Aronofsky’s case, as an excuse to create rock monsters. And while these extras certainly make the films more enjoyable, it can create a little confusion about what really went down in biblical times.

But LUMO’s mission is a little bit different. The company is dedicated to “redefining biblical media” by creating multi-language resources that transform the way people engage with Scripture. In their groundbreaking films, LUMO uses word-for-word translations, culturally accurate casting and stunning cinematography to bring Scripture to life. The result is a visual story that’s not cheesy or whitewashed or extra-biblical; it’s accurate and real — a feat much easier said than done.

Take LUMO’s latest film The Covenant for instance. The film spans the first five books of the Bible, covering the creation of the world, Noah’s Ark, the Tower of Babel, the exodus of God’s people — and those are just a few of the big highlights. Going word-for-word means that The Covenant worked with an editorial committee comprising representatives from Bible Media Group, OneHope, Faith Comes by Hearing, SIL and Jesus Film to ensure the script remained biblically accurate. It’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work, but the final result appears to be more than worth it.

That doesn’t happen without intentionality, though. As LUMO creator Hannah Leader shared with RELEVANT, her team spent years working with experts to make sure The Covenant was just as engaging as it was accurate. We spoke with Leader to find out more about the behind-the-scenes work LUMO is doing, and where they plan on going next.

RLV: Tell me about the vision and the purpose behind The Covenant.

Hannah Leader: We filmed all four of the Gospels first because we wanted to make the Gospels available to people in their own heart language without going through English. This ensures that it doesn’t appear to be an American export when disseminated worldwide. It’s their own Bible.

What we found when we went out was that people were asking about the backstory. Because if Christianity is new to you, it’s obviously fundamental to Christianity, the Jewish religion on which it was based and the history that we see in the Old Testament. So we thought, how could we do this? Because we couldn’t present The Covenant the same way as we did the Gospels word for word.

It would be incredibly long and quite boring in places. The Old Testament is very repetitive and very long because it comprises numerous books. So we worked out what the important themes were, and these are the themes that help us to understand what Christ means. Thus, understanding the beginning and the concept of sin and then the concept of the Exodus and the Jewish people arriving at the Holy Land. So we extracted the stories that were important from Exodus, Genesis and Deuteronomy. We still stuck word for word with the bits we used. It’s just we didn’t use everything. And then we set about filming it, hoping that it helps people understand how the Old Testament leads up to Christ coming as the Messiah.

You mentioned that you went with a word-for-word translation as opposed to modernizing it or taking creative licensing. Why was it important to film it this way?

Well, because, first of all, everybody in their own country knows their own Bible. That’s the Bible they know and love, right? It’s not the King James Bible or the NIV; it’s their translation, which was made from the Greek, never coming through English.

What we wanted was for churches and people new to Christianity to be introduced to the Bible in their own language — the one that they know and love. Once you dramatize it and have everyone speaking English, and then you dub it, you lose all of that familiarity because none of it will match the translation they have from the Greek. As you know, you can translate it in so many ways in a particular sentence.

In using that approach, what sort of limitations or challenges did you encounter as a filmmaker?

The biggest challenge is the fact that once you decide you’re doing that, then you have to put everything in. So even if it’s really difficult, you know, when you write a film script for a drama, you can write it in the way you know you can film. Whereas we’re kind of stuck with what people wrote in the Bible. If they say that there were 3,000 people somewhere, we’ve somehow got to make it believable on film that there are 3,000 people because you can’t take those words out. So that’s the biggest problem.

But, the great thing is that therefore it means you have to make no decisions because it’s all there. So, you know, that’s one job less. You don’t have to think about what you’re going to cut out.

A lot of Bible films over the years have not always used a culturally accurate cast, but that’s thankfully not the case in The Covenant and other LUMO films. Was that an intentional decision?

LUMO creator Hannah Leader

Oh, absolutely. I started LUMO because I was running the children’s church in a very multicultural area in northwest London. I had exactly one white child and I had 60 children. The rest of them were from all over the world. When we had screens installed in our church — because obviously in the UK we’re a bit behind on that, and it was a whole new thing — and I thought, “This is fantastic. I’m going to be able to show them all these films as part of the teaching.” But I realized I couldn’t show them any of the films because Jesus was depicted as white with blue eyes and fair hair. So were all the disciples and everybody else.

It’s like whitewashing everything that’s in the Bible, which we all know originated from the Middle East. Now, the only way to make this accessible to everyone, everywhere, regardless of their color, race or creed, is to make it historically accurate because then it’s not misrepresented. Then everyone can relate to it because everybody knows that he grew up in the Middle East. He needs to look like everyone involved.

What is the team dynamic like at LUMO? 

Our current director, and also the director before, are both very knowledgeable. They’re both practicing Christians who have been involved in numerous documentaries here in the UK as well as films. So that’s a good start. For the LUMO Gospels, we had Tom Wright as a consultant, which was fantastic. He was a great help when we first started this. Then Bible Media Group provides us with a committee of theologians that we can work with. I also took the team, before we did The Covenant, over to Israel and we went to the museum in Jerusalem, which helps you to understand the world of Abraham and Moses.

When you can actually see all the artifacts they have there and understand it all a bit more, it helps so much. That was fantastic.

What’s next for LUMO and The Covenant?

Well, we’ve just finished filming The Acts of the Apostles. That took a while because that’s a long book. So it’s going to be a series of four, one-hour films. It comes to four hours altogether, but it’s complete, nothing has been cut out. It’s word for word, the whole of The Acts of the Apostles. We filmed it in Bulgaria and Morocco. We’re expecting to have it all done by July.

I don’t think so. I just think it’s so exciting the way we can keep doing this. We’re also thinking of doing a Covenant II, maybe after the Acts, which will be King David’s story because, obviously, The Covenant stops when Moses arrives at the Holy Land before the fall of Jericho. There’s quite a lot more of the Old Testament to do, so we might see if we can manage to do that as well. Then I think we’ll be done, because we’re never going to do Revelations. There’s no chance. That’s just too difficult.

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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