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Beyond The Gates Of Splendor
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"Beyond the Gates" is a feature length documentary film experience about the Waodani Indians and the missionary men and women who have given their lives to reach them. This powerful emotional journey begins with the Waodani describing their way of life before the missionaries visited them in 1956. Narrated by the son of one of the missionaries and each of the wives of the men who died, the audience takes a nostalgic trip back in time to see how the men and women came to meet up with each other in Ecuador. An inspiring story of forgiveness and love.
While the primary lesson of Beyond the Gates of Splendor is about the power of Christian love, this extraordinary documentary transcends its missionary message with a universal tale of cultural exchange, murder, and the ultimate act of forgiveness. After establishing that the Waodani Indians in the Amazon basin of Ecuador had endured several generations of violent homicide among tribal neighbors, the film's central story begins to unfold: As American missionaries discover the Waodani in the mid-1950s, their Christian outreach goes smoothly until 1956, when lies and misunderstandings lead to the spear-killing of five of the missionary men whose wives and children--including narrator Steve Saint (whose father was among those killed)--responded to tragedy by living peacefully among the Waodani over the decades that followed. Through home-movie footage, photographs, and eyewitness accounts by American and Waodani alike, this incredible-but-true story of love and understanding unfolds with considerable power, urging the viewer to consider the meaning of this remarkable example of unified humanity. Is the missionary impulse a pure and beneficial one? Are the Waodani best left alone and ignorant of the wide world beyond their village? With deep tragedy, rich humor, and an overwhelming sense of compassion, writer/director Jim Hanon ponders these and other questions, hampered only by an overbearing score (by Ronald Owen) that's lushly beautiful at best, but too often maudlin, manipulative, and shamelessly heavy-handed. It's likely that Christian viewers will be most deeply affected by the film's thematic parallels to the lessons of Christ, but anyone with an ounce of compassion will be similarly moved and astonished. Not surprisingly, Hanon later dramatized the factual events of Beyond the Gates of Splendor in his 2006 feature film The End of the Spear. --Jeff Shannon
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However the story is about the change of the natives from a very violent people to a peaceful people, and how the missionaries' widows and eventually the missionaries' children became the true missionaries to the Waodani after the Waodani had killed the men who first made peaceful contact with them. It is an amazing story of both the Waodani's acceptance of a new way of life and of the ability of the missionaries' widows to forgive and still help the people who killed their husbands for no reason. (Or actually for a lie, this is discussed in length in the film.) The further the story goes the more interesting it was to me. Near the end of the film I really enjoyed hearing the way the older Waodani man described the Untied States after he returned from a visit.
The film combines current interviews with the survivors of the missionary families and interviews with natives (both of the Waodani tribe and others from nearby tribes) with actual video footage and still photographs of the early days of contact with the Waodani. There is a moderate amount of tribal nudity in the old footage since the native wore only a very small loin cloth which covered only the genitals. All of the native woman in the early videos and photographs were topless, and neither the males nor females had any cover of they backsides. Also all of the native children ran around totally nude which continued with the younger ones after the adults and older children started wearing western clothing. One of the missionary girls is also seen nude playing with the native children at times.
If you liked "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" (1991 staring Tom Berenger, John Lithgow and Daryl Hannah) and "The Mission" (1986 staring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons) you will probably also like this film. Or if you like this film you will probably like "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" and "The Mission" also.
The very men in the tribe, who were responsible for the deaths of the missionary men, came to know the Lord through the missionary wives and children. The man responsible for Steve's father's death came to "adopt" Steve into his family as his own son. Steve lived with the tribe as a boy and learned jungle skills. His "adopted," tribal father has visited Steve in the U.S. The two have proclaimed the message of God's love across the world. The love of God, how measureless, how strong.