Matt Page:Are you familiar with the Life of Mohammed film "The Message"? How did that influence what you did here?
Lance Tracy:No I’m not familiar with the film.
MP:The flashback-triggering-memory technique you used several times in the film also got used later on by another Jesus film that people might of heard of. Did you hear from Gibson’s people or do you think it was just coincidence?
LT:Funny story here. While Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ was in development, Mel’s producing partner, Bruce Davey went to breakfast with my producer, Roger Lamb. Roger wanted to discuss a feature length version of The Cross. Little did Roger know that Bruce and Mel were in development on The Passion of The Christ. We had just finished The Cross so Roger gave Bruce a copy of the film. A year or so later (as memory serves me) when the Passion of the Christ came out, I was sitting in the movie theatre watching it with my wife. Mel’s crucifixion scene was almost identical to The Cross. There was a similar crane shot starting at the head of Jesus and raising straight up to the sky. Simultaneously, in both films you could hear the heart beat of Jesus fade up and then slowly come to a stop—a device I used to let the viewers know that this is exactly when Christ’s heart stopped. Mel added a CGI "tear" from God at that moment, which was effective, and his budget accommodated it. My wife looked at me at this scene in shock—I knew her look; "This is exactly like your film". If you compare the resurrection scene in Jesus’ tomb, you’ll notice the same thing. There are other shots as well. The Cross was finished at least a year before The Passion of The Christ, so any inspiration on our film certainly didn’t come from it. The next day after the release of Passion, I received a bunch of phone calls from viewers around the country noting the similarities and asking how I felt. They were implying that I should be upset. I told them that if Mel was indeed inspired by The Cross then I was flattered. I consider him a great filmmaker. Admittedly, all filmmakers are inspired by ideas from other filmmakers.
MP:Talking of The Passion of The Christ, there was obviously a lot of controversy surrounding that film. If you were re-making this film what would you do differently?
LT:Good question. I would spend more money, shoot it in Morocco and use actual middle-eastern people / actors in the film. Also, while the "viewing the movie through the eyes of Jesus" was unique and interesting, and worked well for this short film, I don’t think I’d do it again on a feature - at least to that extent. While it eliminated controversy over what Jesus probably looked like, I believe it would be difficult to develop his character the way it would need to be developed in a feature.
I wanted a hero that relates to every man, someone who is willing to die for the cause. Obviously Jesus did that. While that makes great gospel, that also makes a great story. Unfortunately, it is difficult to put our sometimes cinematically-cumbersome religious beliefs and viewpoints aside to take the artistic license to tell the best story. I felt like both The Passion and The Cross had some of those cumbersome moments--A checklist, if you will, of items that must appear in a Jesus film in a certain way, in order for it to be told correctly. You don’t find those same constraints in a non-religious historical film. There are expectations to contend with, and a Christian audience goes into a film like this with their own set of them.
My feature script is called Revolution and I’d like it to relate on many levels to a non-Christian audience—mainly because I don’t think our world should be compartmentalized between "religious" and "non religious". However I don’t feel the market can accommodate another Jesus film right now.
MP:Most filmmakers have tried to minimise the line from Matt 27:25 due to the way it has been used to justify anti-Semitism over the ages. What were your reasons for portraying it the way you did?
LT:Jesus and the gospel are not politically correct, from my viewpoint. That’s why he died. I don’t think if he came back today and preached the same way, things would be different. If I’m going to tell an honest story about Jesus, there will be inherent moments that will seem anti-Semitic. Taken into context, those Jewish Pharisees happened to be on the receiving end of his strong words, but I think he would have said those same things to anyone, if they stood in the way of his mission and message. It wasn’t because they were Jewish, it was because they happened to be Jewish Leaders who were leading both Jews and Gentiles astray. In Matthew 10:34, Jesus states, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Now, he said a lot of things in his days, and I think it’s important to not get hung up on just one thing, but to consider the balance of ALL he said, and the message he was trying to portray. That’s what we tried to present in The Cross —a balanced view of his message.
MP:One of my favourite shots from the film is the one of Judas jumping off the tree. It’s a very unusual camera position. What were you trying to capture with that shot?
LT:There’s a certain level of gore in this film which I believe must be there, in order to tell the story truthfully. I decided to place the camera under Judas and have him fall toward camera upside down in the frame. I felt it was jarring and confusing, as I imagine a hanging would be. Agustin Rodriguez, the actor, did a fine job.
MP:Have you any plans to revisit this material at all? There was some discussion on the DVD about a longer film using the same basic premise?
LT:As I eluded to above, my long-term goal as a director is to make an epic film of his entire life, in the calibre of Gladiator or Lawrence of Arabia. The market is a bit swamped at the moment, and I’d like a few more features to contend with first. My current feature documentary on the effects of the Adult Entertainment industry called Adult Entertainment: Disrobing an American Idol is being released next month: www.adultdocumentary.com. My next project is an American Civil War story with quite a twist, scheduled to lens this summer in Oregon State, USA
Thanks to Lance for his answers.
I find Lance's first couple of answers astonishing, particularly as there seems no good reason to doubt their veracity. With regards to The Passion of The Christ it was clearly released three years after The Cross, and the similarities are obvious. What I find astonishing is that in the mountains of reviews, essays, papers, comment and discussion I've waded through on The Passion no-one has yet mentioned The Cross so directly.
I'm also really surprised no-one has ever mentioned The Message to Lance either before, during or after the film's release. I have yet to see it so I can't comment on any similarities or differences, but I would have thought that someone, somewhere, would have brought it up in conversation at least once. Mind you, it's not a particularly well known film especially for those who don't have a strong interest in Islam
The Cross is available to buy on DVD, as well as to download