SIX Weeks to Save the World tells the remarkable story – largely through the eyes of its participants – of the US evangelist, Billy Graham, and his first ‘All Scotland Crusade’ in 1955. Graham’s hosts hoped the charismatic preacher would reverse declining attendances in post-war Scottish churches. Graham saw his mission as that of promoting Christian spirituality as a bulwark against the Communist threat.
The documentary has its first showing on BBC Two Scotland, 9pm on Tuesday May 15.
The film was made by TVI Vision, whose executive producer, Maurice Smith, answers the questions…
Who commissioned it?
The film was commissioned originally by Ewan Angus for BBC Scotland. The BBC executive was David Harron. At an early stage, we discussed various options with them, before settling on a film that would centre on the first Scottish ‘crusade’ in 1955, and the first British one a year earlier in London. This is Billy Graham’s centenary – he was born in 1918 – although sadly he died at the age of 99 earlier this year.
Explain the thinking behind the production’s ‘look and feel’.
Billy Graham’s arrival in Scotland had enormous impact in 1955. He was greeted like a major celebrity, and, like so many things American, he brought enormous glamour to a country that was still experiencing austerity.
We specialise in this kind of modern social history, and it was important to establish that we had access to a group of people who had direct experience of the events of 1955, and were willing to share their memories, and impressions of Graham and what his exhortations meant to them, both then and now.
We also decided to do without the conventional voice-over and to present the story through the voices of the people directly.
Who are the key personnel and how were they recruited?
Our producer-director is Sarah Howitt, making her third film with TVI Vision (the first was the BAFTA award-winning The Bridge: Fifty Years Across the Forth in 2014, and second was The Town That Thread Built last year). We had discussed the idea with Sarah for a while and it was important for us to time production with her availability.
Apart from our small in-house research and development, led by Wendy Smith, and production manager, Kate Hook, we welcomed two people we’ve worked with regularly: assistant producer, Louise Arthur, and film editor, Angela Slaven.
Both Louise and Angela also worked on another film we have been making in recent months, about the linoleum industry.
Our camera work was led by Steven Mochrie, with contributions from Lorian Reed Drake (in London) and Laura Kingwell. Sound was Bartek Baranowski. The online, grade and dubbing were undertaken by Ian Ballantyne, Graham Struthers and John Cobban at Arteus in Glasgow. Graphics were by Nicholas Munro, also Arteus.
What kit and software?
Most filming was done using the Sony FS7 and Canon C300 cameras, and edited in Avid.
What were the main production challenges?
The main challenge was bringing the story to life, using a mix of archive material and specially-shot sequences and interviews involving modern-day testimonies of people who witnessed events in 1955.
The archive material, from a number of sources including the BBC, Pathe and the Billy Graham organisation is remarkable both in content and quality.
We augmented that with a few slow-motion sequences designed to reconstruct the look and feel of the times. There are also some lovely shots contrasting the Kelvin Hall of 1955 with the same arena today.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
Even though we had researched the story obviously, it is remarkable to realise just how massive Billy Graham’s visit was, in terms of media impact and also the impact on people who attended the massive rallies at Kelvin Hall, and also at Hampden, Ibrox and Tynecastle stadia.
He reached 2.5m across the UK during that Scottish visit.
He provoked intense debate about Christianity, spirituality and so on.
Yet back then – and even today, 63 years later – there was controversy about whether evangelism was the real answer for Christianity in Scotland.
Church attendances were declining then, and have fallen a great deal further ever since. So even to committed believers, the jury remains out about the impact of Billy Graham in Scotland.