86: Chariots of Fire Was Not Luck

86: Chariots of Fire Was Not Luck

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen

Chariots of Fire Was Not Luck

Attempt something so impossible that unless God is in it, it’s doomed to failure.

~John Hagee

In the early 1980s, my husband Darryl and his brother Frank started a film production company that specialized in comedy films with a light Christian message. Kuntz Brothers’ films garnered a number of awards and were among the most popular films offered by the Christian Film Distributors Association, which distributed films to churches and other Christian organizations all over the world.

But by 1987, Darryl had a new vision. He wanted to make a full-length family feature to be distributed in mainstream theaters in cities across America. It wouldn’t have an overt Christian message, but it would have a wholesome and uplifting story, something to make the whole family feel good.

Frank was not so sure. He loved kids and shared Darryl’s conviction that there was a desperate need for wholesome family features. But producing one? It seemed too risky a proposition. At that time, family movies, especially those made by independents, were usually commercial disasters, seldom making enough money to pay back all the expenses incurred in production and distribution. The concept of home video rentals, which is now by far the biggest source of income for family films, was brand new and entirely unproven.

“No,” Frank said. “A full-length theatrical release is too big a step, too chancy.”

Soon after, the brothers attended the USA Film Festival in Dallas to accept an award for one of their films and to attend several seminars on filmmaking. The final seminar addressed the making of feature films. As they left the building, Darryl again warmed up to the topic of producing a feature.

“We can do this, Frank. I know we can.”

“I agree there’s a need for it. But somebody else will have to do it,” Frank countered. “Sure, lots of people say they want wholesome family films. But unfortunately they just don’t support them at the box office anymore.”

“Wait a minute. What about Chariots of Fire?” Darryl asked, referring to a hugely successful inspirational film about a Scottish missionary, which was awarded the 1981 Academy Award for Best Picture.

“Chariots of Fire?” Frank scoffed, as they drove out of the parking lot into downtown Dallas rush hour traffic. “That was a fluke. Chariots of Fire was just luck.”

At that moment a dark, new model Mercedes with tinted windows zipped into the lane in front of them. Frank’s mouth dropped open when he saw its bumper sticker. “Chariots of Fire was not luck,” it read. The brothers had just enough time to read it before the car switched lanes again and disappeared into the traffic.

“Well, shut my mouth,” Frank said.

Kuntz Brothers’ family feature film Dakota, starring Lou Diamond Phillips and distributed by Miramax, released to theaters nationwide in 1988. While not a runaway hit, it did receive favorable reviews and paved the way for future family films. Los Angeles Times critic Gary Franklin referred to then-President George Bush’s call for a kinder and gentler America and rated Dakota “a kinder and gentler 8 on Franklin’s scale of 1 to 10.” NBC critic David Sheehan called it “a film filled with high ideals and a very big heart.” Good Housekeeping magazine labeled it “one of the year’s best choices for youngsters of all ages.” Ted Baehr, author of The Christian Family Guide to Movies & Video, named it “a fine film the whole family can enjoy,” and Bob Briner, author of Roaring Lambs, cited it as a breakthrough for producers of wholesome family films. By the standards Frank and Darryl valued, Dakota was, indeed, successful.

As for the bumper sticker: neither Frank nor Darryl nor anyone they know has ever seen or heard of another like it. It was, perhaps, one of a kind, appearing in just the right place at just the right time to convince Frank and Darryl Kuntz that they would have all the help they needed to buck the system and produce a successful feature family film.

~Sara Lynn Worley Kuntz

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