In the spring of 2014, West Africa was under siege from the sweeping Ebola pandemic. A brave and selfless team rose to the occasion, risking everything to provide resources and care to the suffering people of Africa, doing it all in the name of Jesus. When some members of this organization were struck down by the virus, the crisis hit home for Samaritan’s Purse and Franklin Graham. Dr. Kent Brantly and worker Nancy Writebol both contracted the deadly virus, and that’s when the miracles began to unfold. `
The new film Facing Darkness tells the incredible true story of how determination, prayer, and faith moved mountains. This special movie event comes to theatres March 30th with an encore performance on April 10th. Sonoma Christian Home had the privilege of speaking with the movie’s executive producer Bill Coger.
Bill is an award-winning editor, with Regional Emmy Awards, Telly Awards, and National Religious Broadcaster awards that he’s earned over his 30-year career. After Bill advanced from camera operator in the television industry to producer/editor for a nationally syndicated TV program, he eventually went to work for a CW television network in Cleveland.
Joining Samaritan’s Purse in 1998, Bill served as editor and over the following 18 years, rose to vice president of a 30-member production team that compromised of award-winning producers, editors, visual effects and video personnel. Bill currently oversees decision-making for the ministry’s production and post-production.
SCH Editor At Large Melanie Pickett reports.
SCH: What was your role in the production of the film?
Bill Coger: I was Executive Producer on film and also one of the co-producers with Arthur Rasco and another one of my staff, Kevin Adamson. I also had a lot of say in the directing of the film, the direction it was going to take, the scripting, final approval on everything, the story, and kind of coached the editors through what we were looking for. To tell you the truth, it’s a collaboration from all of us here as a group. It was my whole creative team. We were all intimately involved and know all the things that happen to put this together. The roles kind of crossed over for what we did here. We were all kind of doing some producing, some directing, and were involved in all the details together. It was a very collaborative process.
SCH: What made your team take on this project?
BC: It’s a Samaritan’s Purse film and obviously we all went through during that time, and we heard all the stories that were being told all over the world, internationally, about what had happened during that time. Then from an inside perspective, we knew all the intimate details of the miraculous things that happened that God did during this crisis. For me, as I heard more and more about that, and as we heard the people debriefing as they came back from Liberia, a lot of the people you see in the film. We started to hear through those debriefs, their individual stories.
At some of Franklin’s festivals that he holds for the Billy Graham Organization and our devotions, I heard him speak, and he was saying some of the inside things. He tells in the film where he was in his office praying the night when they thought Kent was going to die. The more I heard of that, the more the Lord kind of moved on my heart that we had to tell this story. We weren’t sure what it was going to be when we went after it. We just knew that we had to do it.
SCH: Were there any specific moments that took place during the creation of this project that were undeniably by God’s hand?
BC: Yes, especially when you start to hear the intimate details of the whole process. The ZMapp that was in Africa – there was one thing of it there and another country. It had never been tried on humans before. We didn’t have it. They didn’t know how they would get it to Kent. It was transported by boat and by airplane, and still it had never been used on a human being before, so it could have killed them too. But also, the common theme that kept coming back from everybody that we talked to was the fear that they had during this time and how they all resolved that with their faith in God. God brought them through.
Individually they all told different stories, but that was the common thread that they all had, and they had to face it every day. The courage that they had and the compassion because having courage is not a lack of fear – it’s having the courage to go on despite it. They all did that every day. They chose to have compassion for these people and answer the call that God had put on their lives there, despite that they were dealing with one of the most deadly diseases on the planet.
SCH: How did you film this movie while maintaining safety for all involved?
BC: There actually was no crew on site because we weren’t allowed to take gear and stuff in and out of the country once Ebola started. We weren’t allowed to go over there and cover it, but we wanted to. There was one young lady there who was part of the Liberian staff there, Joanie. She had been there for years and she had a Canon camera. She would document some of it on that camera and shooting some of the footage that we got, but we weren’t allowed to go over there and shoot. All the shooting we did was retelling the story later and going back to Liberia and all the locations.
SCH: What message do hope viewers will take away from this film?
BC: In general when it comes to viewers or the church even, we hope and believe that this story will get the church will get excited about serving others. We are also encouraging them to share their faith and for each and every individual person, they can choose – just like the people did in this movie – and Kent has said in interviews since we came back, that whether you’re serving ….basically the story of the Good Samaritan, we feel, a modern-day story of it, where the Samaritan saw the person on the road, and had compassion on that person to save their life, and took them to the inn and took care of them.
That’s what these people were doing each and every day. For the individual viewers like myself and others to just be challenged by what these people did, in your own faith, and you can choose compassion over fear. I think Kent has said too that the message of the movie is important because it’s much more than about Ebola. It’s one that our country and churches need to hear right now: act out of love instead of reacting out of fear.
SCH: How did this project affect you personally and strengthen your faith in any way?
BC: Absolutely. I think it did for every one of my team besides a lot of people here at Samaritan’s Purse. We are an international relief organization and we respond to crises all over the world, and help people physically and spiritually. We have seen a lot of different things, and met a lot of different crises. But through this one, I think in seeing the miraculous things that God did during this time, has inspired all of us to do as Kent said, and as Kent is doing even now back working in the hospital.
Who is your neighbor and what can you do to reach out to them with the love of Christ where they’re at and where you’re at at that moment? There’s kind of a difference sometimes in doing the work of God and doing the work God has called you to do. Both of those are great things, but when you’re in that place of that work that God has called you to do, which for us was doing this film and working here at Samaritan’s Purse, it has inspired us to go and do likewise, like it says in Luke 10.
SCH: Is there anything else you’d like to add about this incredible film and the process through which it was made?
BC: We would hope the film would inspire a new generation of missionaries to be inspired by Kent and the other people there, and the other things that happened there, to answer a call to the mission field if that is the calling that God has on your life. Also, take a group from your church or go together to see the film and afterwards, discuss what you saw and how you feel, and how God can use you the same way he used the people in the film.
For the SCH audience, of interest to you is a mission going on over there right now. Samaritan’s Purse has a Ruth project that has come out of this film based on Ruth in the Bible. Nancy Rieboldt is part of that. She’s back over there. There is a stigma there for a lot of women who have lost their husbands to Ebola. Everything is resting on them now for their families. People are afraid to talk to them and different things like that and they are abandoned, so this program reaches out to them in their communities where they face rejection.
Nancy and others there are counseling and ministering to them to help overcome that, and also, counsel them in a group setting from a Christian perspective, providing hope through Christ. Also, at the end of that, the women receive livelihood training so they can support themselves now and go on and help them. Since Nancy is a survivor, she really resonates with them and ministers to them. That is a fantastic thing that is happening right now.
The compelling, award-winning documentary of the Samaritan’s Purse organization’s race to rescue two of its medical workers stricken with Ebola has earned $1.2 million at the box office for its March 30 – originally one night – nationwide screening through Fathom Events.
The event’s incredible performance prompted producers to schedule the encore presentation for Monday, April 10, at 7 p.m. local time. This event – also one night only – as a bonus, includes exclusive behind-the-scenes details from Franklin Graham, President of Samaritan’s Purse, as well as Dr. Kent Brantly. Dr. Brantly contracted Ebola in Liberia and survived. They share about the life-and-death struggles there due to the tragedy of Ebola.
Facing Darkness’ encore viewing will be held at over 600 theatres nationwide. Visit Facing Darkness movie for more information and where you can purchase tickets.