Based on the best-selling novel by Robert Whitlow published by Thomas Nelson eight years ago, The List is scheduled for release on DVD Tuesday from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Rated PG for thematic elements, The List follows the journey of Renny Jacobson as his father's last will and testament leads him to uncover the mysterious secrets behind a clandestine society in his native hometown of Charlotte, N.C.
Described as "the John Grisham of the Christian market," best-selling author Robert Whitlow has written a total of six legal thrillers with The List being the first novel to be adapted for film. Along with his DVD release he is simultaneously releasing his latest novel, Deeper Water.
Whitlow, a Charlotte-based attorney, says the book's main theme of prayer and spiritual warfare comes from his own experiences as a charismatic Christian, as well as those of other Christians he has known.
Set in the South, the book traces the effects of a secret society formed during the Civil War to its members' modern-day descendants, who must battle hidden spiritual forces that threaten to unravel their lives.
The List is based on a spiritual truth Whitlow said he has seen worked out in the lives of many people who have been influenced both for good and for bad by past generations of their families. "My own grandmother Daisy was a great [positive] spiritual influence in our family," said Whitlow, who named one of the characters in the book after her.
Whitlow won a Christy Award for Contemporary Fiction for his second novel, The Trial. He said the basic theology he hopes to get across in all his novels is that God is real and wants to interact with people across the whole spectrum of life and experience.
"Christian ideas can be communicated in every style of story and in every kind of writing," Whitlow said. "There is a place Christian writers can go that nobody else can go because we have an understanding of the kingdom of God and the ways the Spirit of God works in the lives of people."
Whitlow said he was approached more than once about adapting The List into a film but never had confidence the story would be presented faithfully until he met Gary Wheeler of Level Path Productions, an independent film company out of Boone, N.C. In 2004 he signed an agreement to co-produce the movie with Wheeler.
As the director, producer and co-screenwriter, Wheeler said what drew him to the project was the challenge of depicting the element of prayer that was at the center of the story. "Plus, I'm a Southerner," Wheeler said, "and it's a Southern story that captures the reality and faith of these people."
Mark Fincannon, casting director for the film End of the Spear, also did the casting for The List. "There's a story for every actor who ended up working on this film," Fincannon said. "I can't take credit because I believe God had already chosen these people, and it was more about me putting myself in the position to see whom He had chosen."
The movie, which released in 2007 to a limited audience, co-stars Hilarie Burton, from The WB's One Tree Hill, and Chuck Carrington, who appeared in the series JAG. Other actors include Afemo and Elizabeth Omilami, who lead a homeless street ministry in Atlanta.
Wheeler sees good things in store for faith-based films. "It's up to us filmmakers to hone our craft and make better movies," he said. "There are a lot of great stories of faith out there, and film is ... a way to tell those stories to a wider audience."
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