Movies on a Mission

American Protestants and the Foreign Missionary Film, 1906–1956


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About the Book

This investigation into the little-known genre of mission-oriented films uncovers how Protestant missionaries overseas sought to bring back motion picture footage from remote parts of the world. In the broader religious community, mission films aimed to educate congregants back home about efforts to evangelize communities around the world. This book, however, demonstrates the larger impact of mission films on American visual culture. The evolution and development of the genre is highlighted from an early emphasis on “foreign views” in the 1910s, to interwar films providing a more detailed look at how mission stations functioned in far-flung lands, to Cold War productions which at times functioned as veritable propaganda tools parroting anti-communist discourse emanating from the CIA.

About the Author(s)

Glenn Reynolds is a professor of history at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. He specializes in forgotten cinemas at the margins, especially colonial cinema in Africa, and the global proliferation of missionary films. He lives in Ossining, New York.

Bibliographic Details

Glenn Reynolds
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 243
Bibliographic Info: 19 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8539-7
eISBN: 978-1-4766-5021-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Abbreviations xi
Preface 1
Introduction 3
Part I—Putting Faith in Film: Mainline Protestants and the New Media
One.  The “Scientific Gradation of Vice” 12
Two.  The Screen Sermon 17
Three.  Location, Location, Location 29
Part II—The Biggest, the Best, and the Most Remarkable: Foreign Views and the Evangelization of the World, 1908–1919
Four.  Bringing the Missionary Film Genre into Focus 40
Five.  “The World” in Pictures 56
Six.  Missionary Film Companies and Ecumenical Partnerships in the Mid–1910s 62
Seven.  Cinema and the Sunday School Movement 69
Eight.  Missions Accomplished in the East 78
Part III—Putting the Reels in Mission: From Evangelization to Mission Work in the Interwar Years
Nine.  Post–World War I: The Challenges of Ecumenism 98
Ten.  Going It Alone 107
Eleven.  Rank Amateurs, Radical Missionaries, Traveling Pastors and Lone Wolves 126
Twelve.  The Expanding Genre in the Post–World War I Era 133
Thirteen.  Ecumenism Revisited 141
Part IV—New Frontiers: Evangelicals, Cold Wars and the Institutionalization of the Genre
Fourteen.  The Institutionalization of the Missionary Film 152
Fifteen.  Go Pro: Paul Gebauer, Henri Ferger, Alan Shilin and the Professionalization of the Genre 169
Sixteen.  The Geopolitics of Missionary Filmmaking 176
Seventeen.  Evangelicals, Cold Warriors and Other Soldiers of the Faith 189
Eighteen.  Heroes, Martyrs, Winged Messengers, and Journeys Long and Arduous 198
Conclusion: A ­Half-Century of Missionary Filmmaking 205
Chapter Notes 209
Bibliography 227
Index 229

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “…this in-depth research significantly expands our understanding of how religious leaders utilized films in evangelistic and humanitarian work around the globe. This is an outstanding scholarly work that expands the boundaries of what film studies can be.”—Terry Lindvall, author of Sanctuary Cinema: The Origins and the Evolution of the Christian Film Industry