Graham movie catches flak from Franklin

Franklin Graham has criticized the new feature film about his famous Charlotte-born father, saying “Billy: The Early Years” includes a few scenes that never happened in real life and others that are “greatly embellished.”

“My father's life has been documented in many ways and I have always appreciated those who painstakingly sought to tell his story accurately,” Franklin Graham said in a statement posted Monday on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Web site, www.billygraham.org.

The younger Graham, CEO of the Charlotte-based group, also made it clear that he and the BGEA neither collaborated with the filmmakers nor endorsed their movie – due in theaters Oct. 10.

His spokesman, Mark DeMoss, said Tuesday that Graham put out the statement not to hurt the film – “he doesn't care if people see it.” Rather, he worried that some pastors who have agreed to host preview screenings in their churches were under the mistaken impression that the movie was somehow authorized by the BGEA.

Film producer Larry Mortorff, who made a copy available to Graham, said he would have no comment Tuesday, but may have something to say later.

DeMoss said that Billy Graham, now 89 and living in Montreat, has not yet seen the film.

Asked Tuesday which scenes Graham objected to, DeMoss offered what he called “two simple examples … producers would refer to as creative license.”

In one, the young Billy Graham faints at the hospital when told wife Ruth has given birth to their first child, GiGi. In fact, Graham was not at the hospital when GiGi was born; he was in Alabama, preaching. The other scene DeMoss mentioned shows Billy Graham and wife Ruth tossing a baseball back and forth. “Actually, that's not something they would have done,” said DeMoss.

A scene Franklin Graham found more “troublesome,” DeMoss said, was one he categorized as embellished. In it, Bob Jones Sr., then-president of fundamentalist Bob Jones College, tells young Billy Graham, a student who has questioned some of the school's strict views, that he will never amount to anything. In the scene, darkness partly obscures the ranting Jones.

DeMoss said Franklin Graham felt that the scene “completely misrepresented Bob Jones” and has written a letter to Bob Jones III, now president of Bob Jones University, assuring him that “we didn't collaborate on the film.”

But according to Billy Graham's autobiography, “Just As I Am,” the scene may not be so off the mark, though the real Jones' ire appeared to be caused by Graham's decision to leave Bob Jones College for Florida Bible Institute.

“I asked for an interview with Dr. Bob in his office and told him about my discontent and my thoughts of leaving,” Billy Graham wrote in his 1997 autobiography. “His voice booming, he pronounced me a failure and predicted only more failure ahead.”

In his short, but sharp posting about the movie, Franklin Graham also faulted the film for not sharing what he calls his father's passion to preach the Gospel.

“He felt there was not sufficient treatment of his father preaching, and when he was preaching, it was watered-down,” DeMoss said.

The movie, filmed in and around Nashville, Tenn., covers Billy Graham's teenage years in Charlotte and his time at college and as a new, sometimes awkward preacher. Scenes show him courting his wife, Ruth, receiving Christ at a 1934 tent revival in Charlotte and giving a few early sermons in a fire-and-brimstone style.

In the movie's climax, Graham conquers any doubts about his faith in the Bible by telling God he will never question what's written in the Scriptures.

“Billy: The Early Years” won't hit theaters for almost two months. In hopes of creating advance word of mouth, the filmmakers are inviting pastors to more than 50 preview screenings.

The movie's producers have hired GiGi Graham as a consultant to help promote the film. She praised the movie in an interview with a TV station in Lynchburg, Va.

DeMoss acknowledged that Franklin Graham has spoken with his sister about the movie.

“He told her there are some inaccuracies in the film, which she doesn't dispute,” DeMoss said. “She can do what she wants, but she's not representing the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, nor would she say she is.”