The Association of U S West Retirees



"Goal!  He Spends It on Beckham
By Graham Bowley
New York Times
Sunday, April 22, 2007


Leaving no business stone left unturned, Mr. Anschutz has also plunged headlong into filmmaking.

In a speech at a leadership seminar in Naples, Fla., in 2004, Mr. Anschutz explained why he’s gone Hollywood.  He said that digital production and distribution were upending the film business, opening opportunities for entrepreneurs like him.  He also said that he believed that Hollywood had wandered too far away from mainstream tastes by misreading “the market and the mood of a large segment of the movie-going audience today.”

“Why can’t movies return to being something that we can go and see with our children and our grandchildren without being embarrassed or on the edge of our seats?” he asked.

His corporate answer to that question is Crusader Entertainment, which he set up in 2000 (later renaming it Bristol Bay Productions).  Its first film, “Joshua,” was about a Christ-like figure in modern rural America.  In 2001, he invested in Walden Media, a production company that specializes in family films.  Micheal Flaherty, Walden’s co-founder, says the company makes movies based on existing stories already popular among children;  Walden does market research in schools to unearth stories that children find fetching and markets its films as educational material to teachers and librarians.

Some of Mr. Anschutz’s early films flopped, but he has also enjoyed some notable successes.  “Ray,” a biopic of Ray Charles that Mr. Anschutz championed against reservations from his film executives, went on to win an Oscar for its star, Jamie Foxx.  During the film’s production, according to Mr. Flaherty and David Weil, who heads the Anschutz Film Group, Mr. Anschutz intervened to tone down some of the racier material to make the film more suitable for a family audience.

His biggest film hit by far has been “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which is based on the Narnia series of children’s books by the British Christian writer, C. S. Lewis.  The filming of the next installment in the Narnia series, “Prince Caspian,” has finished in New Zealand and moved on to Prague;  “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” will be next.

The Narnia stories are all Christian allegories.  “Amazing Grace,” a current Walden film, is about one of Mr. Anschutz’s heroes, William Wilberforce, a British politician and evangelical Christian who fought the slave trade.  Bristol Bay plans a film about another C. S. Lewis book, “The Screwtape Letters,” an epistolary novel about devils fighting over human souls.

“There is a common theme in all our films,” Mr. Flaherty said.  “They all come with great stories of redemption and an incredible optimism.  It is never too late.”

Mr. Anschutz’s forays into newspapers and films have prompted concerns that he might use his billions to impose his private beliefs on others.  His move into the liberal Bay Area prompted The San Francisco Bay Guardian to declare in 2005 that The Examiner “espouses a general pro-big business, conservative ideology that’s out of touch with the San Francisco mainstream.”

(The paper also praised The Examiner for improved reporting quality and said that it was making a rival, The San Francisco Chronicle, up its game).

The first Narnia film drew notice from some commentators for its heavy Christian symbolism.  The Guardian, a liberal British paper, said the film was “a neat synergy of politics, religion and product placement.”  After Jeb Bush, then the governor of Florida, picked “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” for a public school reading program, The Palm Beach Post said the book was being used as “a way to subtly introduce the Christ story to young people.”

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit group, criticized Mr. Bush as promoting an overtly Christian tale in the public school system.  “We just found it was inappropriate for a government official to do this,” Mr. Lynn says.

A spokesman for Mr. Anschutz says that his films appeal to a diverse audience and are not meant to proselytize.  His film and newspaper executives say he grants them plenty of independence and point out that while some of his films may have religious connotations, others do not.

Mr. Anschutz himself has not responded directly to his critics, but in his Florida speech three years ago he recounted why he became a filmmaker, providing some insight into his thinking.  “I decided to stop cursing the darkness — I had been complaining about movies and their content for years — and instead to do something about it,” he said.  “And yes, I saw a chance with this movie to attempt some small improvement in the culture.”

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