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New documentary takes pulse of Adventist Church's impact in United States

Film set to air on public television next month

New documentary takes pulse of Adventist Church's impact in United States

Independent filmmaker Martin Doblmeier directs actors portraying early Seventh-day Adventists in his latest film, The Adventists, which traces the church's heritage of healthy living to the late 1800s. [photo: courtesy Journey Films]

A documentary showcasing the Seventh-day Adventist Church's health message and ministry is scheduled to air on Public Broadcasting Stations across the United States beginning April 3.

The Adventists explores what independent filmmaker Martin Doblmeier sees as paradox: a conservative faith community at the forefront of medical technology.

Learning why Adventists, who believe in the soon coming of Jesus, are committed to living long and well motivated the documentary, Doblmeier said.

The film begins with Adventist Church chronology, focusing on church founder Ellen G. White and other early members' disappointment after Jesus failed to return to Earth in 1844. Adventists today, Doblmeier seems to say as the film progresses, have just as much faith as early members, but are committed to living responsibly and positively impacting those around them while they wait for the Second Coming.

That impact is largely rooted in the church's emphasis on healthy living, Doblmeier's film concludes. In filming The Adventists, Doblmeier said he was struck by "how central the theology of health care" is to Adventism.

The film features stories from many of the Adventist Church's leading hospitals and medical centers, including Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, California; Kettering Medical Center in Kettering, Ohio; St. Helena Hospital in St. Helena, California; and Florida Hospital Celebration Health in Celebration, Florida, where Doblmeier's mother once received treatment.

The Adventists traces the church's heritage of healthy living to the late 1800s. Even then, Adventist-run medical centers were health meccas known for offering the latest medical techniques -- the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, drew patients such as Amelia Earhart and Henry Ford, the film says.

Doblmeier devotes considerable film time to more recent medical breakthroughs, such as Dr. Leonard Bailey's successful 1984 transplant of a baboon heart into an infant at Loma Linda University Medical Center, as well as advances in the area of robotic and even remote surgery.

He also emphasizes Adventists' commitment to Sabbath-keeping. "I was really moved by the Sabbath culture in the Adventist Church. Adventists are not simply sitting around being lazy on Sabbath -- they're out there helping people and impacting their communities," Doblmeir said.

The response to the film from the Adventist community has been "gratifying," Doblmeier said, adding that he hopes those without a background in the Adventist Church find the film a "balanced and positive portrayal" of the church's impact in the United States.

From an Adventist perspective, the film may seem resoundingly positive, but Doblmeier said he suspects viewers who aren't Adventists might see some aspects of the film differently. "They'll see Ellen White and her visions portrayed honestly in their central role in the founding of the church, and I think that will raise some eyebrows," he said.

The Adventists is the latest of Doblmeier's 25 award-winning films on religion, faith and spirituality, which include Bonhoeffer, a documentary on Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Albert Schweitzer: Called to Africa, a film recounting that Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian's life.

Doblmeier is president and founder of Journey Films in Alexandria, Virginia, United States.

Finding "what's happening in contemporary culture and how religion is intersecting with that" drives his subject matter, Doblmeier said. A discussion of the Adventist Church's holistic take on health ministry is "timeless," but the film's release when healthcare reform is making headlines in the United States is particularly "providential timing," he said.

Doblmeier said with its admittedly narrowed focus on health ministry in the United States, The Adventists doesn't cover many aspects of the global Protestant denomination. Another film exploring the church's international aspect and its emphasis on education may be on the horizon, he said.

Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Takoma Park, Maryland, will host a screening of The Adventists on Saturday, April 3 at 7:30 p.m. A question-and-answer session with Doblmeier will follow.

Screenings will also be held twice daily during the church's General Conference Session from June 27 to July 2 in Atlanta, Georgia.

To order a DVD copy of The Adventists or to learn more about Doblmeier's films, visit