Politics & Policy

Thunder and Enlightening

Filmmakers with a love of life.

Not long ago, the TV Land cable network aired a salute to television history, which ended up provoking in me some very unusual emotions. You see, they were bestowing accolades on a particular episode of a 1970s TV show called Maude. I remembered that very episode from when I was a kid–and the memories flooded back of how angry and scared I had been because of it. Maude, a middle-aged woman played by Bea Arthur, was urged by her grown-up daughter, played by Adrienne Barbeau, to get an abortion; the daughter’s rationale was that Maude was in her 40s, and thus too old to have a baby. Now, put yourself in the position of young me: My own mom was in her 40s when I was born. Thank God, it would never have occurred to my sister–20 years older than I–to make such a case. But by the time I was a teen, I had already heard loud and clear the cultural message the show’s producer, Norman Lear, and others like him were sending: A life like mine could very easily have been judged too inconvenient. I was, as far as they were concerned, expendable.

Too many young people, over the past three decades, have internalized this false and emotionally harmful message. That’s why I was so thrilled when a powerful little film started popping up at various festivals recently: a 35-minute movie that may begin to undo some of the pro-abortion damage wrought by popular culture. The film, called A Distant Thunder, compels audiences to face the consequences of abortion. It is a chilling courtroom drama, told much in the style of an above-average episode of The Twilight Zone–and seeks to do to unrestricted abortion what Uncle Tom’s Cabin did to slavery.

Upon seeing A Distant Thunder, Florida governor Jeb Bush lauded it as “timely . . . a call to action to defend the lives of soon-to-be-born children who are inhumanely denied their right to life.” Pro-life leaders were so impressed with the movie that they invited the filmmakers to speak alongside Terri Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.

This was a large turn of events for a small film. But its writer and director, Jonathan Flora, is no stranger to the unexpected. When he met the love of his life, a gifted actress (and former Miss Colorado) named Deborah Riecks, he didn’t believe what he was experiencing. They met at church, and, he recalls, “When I saw her walking down the aisle, it was like in slow motion with the music swelling.” But as Deborah points out: “He’d already met me several times, he just never remembered me.” Despite all the earlier missed connections, it worked out between them: Deborah–now Deborah Flora–is not just Jonathan’s wife but also the star of his amazing film.

What makes both Floras so effective as activists is that they excel as artists. Unpolished filmmakers can sometimes get away with neglecting craft if they are telling politically correct stories; Hollywood might reward them simply because it believes their hearts are in the right place. But if filmmakers want to tell stories with a Christian worldview . . . well, they had better be good at their craft. As Deborah stresses: “We are filmmakers who happen to be Christian–not Christian filmmakers.” A Distant Thunder bears out her claim: It provides expert storytelling as well a pro-life message.

The film had a deeply personal genesis. Almost 30 years ago, during his freshman year of college, Jonathan arranged for his then-girlfriend to have an abortion. The incident haunted him for years; eventually he emerged from the spiritual struggles that he refers to as “the firing process.” Subsequently, the Floras were told they’d never have children–which prompted them to bouts of research on childbearing-related issues. To his shock, Jonathan discovered that there were 4,500 abortions a day in America–and that 95 percent of them were elective. It was then that the idea for the film began to form. (In another miracle of the creative process, the Floras have since been blessed with two babies.)

George Clooney recently dismissed those who feel that “Hollywood is out of touch.” But many Americans should be encouraged that a growing proportion of the entertainment community shares their values. It’s these artists who are the true rebels: They know that the fight for life and other crucial moral struggles won’t, finally, be won in the legislatures or courtrooms–the real battlefield is the culture. So they are stepping up to the plate with alternative fare, to compete with the liberal Clooneys. Jonathan has it right: “We are not going to stop certain practices by changing the law. It has to be done by changing hearts and minds. Often, it’s done one person at a time.”

Over 30 years ago, actress Adrienne Barbeau played a character who warned her mother that the timing was wrong for a baby. In real life, though, Barbeau herself gave birth to twins when she was 52: Sometimes artists are wiser than their art. The Floras believe that the timing of God’s miracles–no matter how unlikely–is always right. And perhaps the timing is finally right for America to once again find its moral center on issues of life.


Cheryl Rhoads is an actress and writer


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