Canaan Land (2021)

A man goes on a path of redemption and love in this semi-autobiographical film from writer-director Richard Rossi.

Bill Gantry is a man who preaches the word of God. However, he uses his “faith” to manipulate many women and cons them out of money for his “church”. One fateful day, he meets Sister Sara Sunday, the leader of the Bethany Temple. Unlike Bill, Sara relies heavily on her faith to God and means every word she says. As a result, she has an unformidable reputation as a respected evangelist. Bill sees this as a major cash grab at first, performing fake miracles to appease the church.

However, as time goes on, Bill slowly begins to change. For the first time in so long, he begins to embrace the faith and seeks to redeem himself by helping the church get more exposure. He even falls for Sister Sara in the process. Things begin to go downhill when Bill’s victims show up and expose his past actions, Bill is kicked out of Bethany Temple and Sister Sara breaks up with him. This may be the wake-up call Bill needs to finally find himself and once again, embrace the real faith within himself.

Richard Rossi uses his own past experiences as a former faith healing evangelist to write and direct this film, based on his own book, that sheds light on the duality of faith and the world of evangelism. The film is more than a road to redemption for our central character, but in a series of small video vignettes, it is done in a semi-documentary fashion where we see “interviews” from both Bill’s victims and the members of the Bethany Temple, who believe “Brother Bill” is as loyal as he claims to be.

Rossi himself takes on the central role of “Brother Billy” Gantry, who is seen as a con man who manipulates his way not only to get money, but even at one point, a place when a believer takes him in. It is clear that Bill is only out to look out for himself, using his natural charm to get his way. However, it is once he meets Sister Sara, played by an excellent Rebecca Holden of Knight Rider fame, that he still continues his ways but sees a bit of potential. Rossi and Holden have this natural chemistry that works and makes the film believable.

The film also delves into the dark side of evangelism. One may think of the song and music video for the 1991 Genesis song “Jesus He Knows Me”, which depicts the dark side of televangelism. Of course, we’re in an age where it’s now “viral evangelism” and the #MeToo movement. So, to see these little “interviews” of Brother Bill’s past actions would be something marked as headlines of sorts in the same vein the recent Hillside Church scandal purveys. However, that doesn’t mean that Brother Bill’s life is completely destroyed. It is just indicating that it is a wake-up call and he and only he can walk that path to redemption. Time to stop talking like an evangelist and say that this is a very well thought out and unflinching look at the world of evangelism and its impact on both a positive and negative note.

Canaan Land is a really good indie film about both the duality of evangelism and a road of redemption for one such man who goes from one side of the spectrum to another. Faith-based film fans will most likely want to see this.

WFG RATING: B+

An Eternal Grace Production. Director: Richard Rossi. Producers: Richard Rossi and Rebecca Holden. Writer: Richard Rossi, based on his own novel. Cinematography: Jeff Griffith, Adan Higgins, Richard Robert Krause Jr., Robert Reber, and Jeff Woolley. Editing; Richard Rossi and Robert Reber.

Cast: Richard Rossi, Rebecca Holden, Dawna Lee Heising, Joe Gonzalez, Isaac Bar-Jonah, Jozy Pollock, Alex Rinehart, Stephanie Sullivan, Rosetta Walker, Philip Bell.

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