A filmmaker visits the Holy Land Experience theme park, where Christ is crucified twice a day.
The Holy Land Experience is a Christian theme park in Orlando, Florida, owned and operated by the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the largest evangelical television station in the country. Twice a day, a bloodied Jesus bears the Cross through a crowd of believers and up an ivy-covered hill, where he is crucified. This Passion drama, accompanied by a dancing chorus performing a set of original songs, is the centerpiece of the park, and it’s what drew me to make a film there in the spring of 2008.
I was raised Catholic but it never took. A belief system with ancient roots and a promised heaven is comforting if you give yourself up to it; irrationality is part of its strength. But as modernity erodes all things ancient and mysterious, how do these myths survive, and how are they presented to a contemporary audience? The Gift of Eternal Life is an attempt to think about these issues without judgment, through patient observation. Prolonged looking can be a transcendent act.
My plan was to drive to the park alone, forgoing permission to film, and try to vanish into the crowd. Thankfully, my father volunteered to come along and gave me something to shoot on the way. (I must apologize for the hours of Christian radio to which I subjected him.) Every culture has ideas about what happens after death, so I end the film with one of my own. The image comes from a dream I had a few years ago after my grandmother had passed away. We were together underwater, swimming in total warmth and comfort, and laughing as if to say, “This is what we were so afraid of?”